Roundtable: Patriot Act, Private Drunkenness, Terry McMillan Topics on Wednesday's roundtable discussion: making the USA Patriot Act permanent; a man sues to be drunk on private property; and Terry McMillan and her soon to be ex-husband air their dirty laundry on television. Joining the conversation are: Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post; George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; and Laura Washington, columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Roundtable: Patriot Act, Private Drunkenness, Terry McMillan

Roundtable: Patriot Act, Private Drunkenness, Terry McMillan

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Topics on Wednesday's roundtable discussion: making the USA Patriot Act permanent; a man sues to be drunk on private property; and Terry McMillan and her soon to be ex-husband air their dirty laundry on television. Joining the conversation are: Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post; George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; and Laura Washington, columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, a congressman wants to make the Patriot Act permanent and are you ever too young to learn? From NPR headquarters in Washington, DC, Joe Davidson, editor at The Washington Post. Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, joins us today from member station WLRN in Miami. And George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, joins us from Maryland.

All right. Folks, let's talk about something that we've been looking at for quite some time and now there is a proposal to make the Patriot Act permanent. This was proposed by a Republican from Wisconsin, James Sensenbrenner, and the idea of making such a controversial act permanent speaks to what critics were concerned about all along, George Curry.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor in Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): Yeah. There are some provisions in there scheduled to be revised, but that's just--you know, the House has one version. The Senate Republicans have a stronger one. The real problem is this was done in haste. A lot of things are not related to terrorism. They're really talking about cramping the styles and liberties of Americans. And there were certain sunset provisions--I think about 16--put into this law hoping that it would expire, of course, requiring that they be renewed. And I think the most troubling part is the lack of sufficient judicial review in some cases. We already have the apparatus set up. We have to--the law enforcement agency need to go and get warrants without the person knowing it. They can go appear before a judge and that's already intact, should be intact, but under the law, they're allowed to avoid that and just basically issue themselves warrants.

GORDON: Joe, there are going to be people who say, `Just take a look at London last week, and we don't much care about the infringement upon certain niceties that have been provided to us in this country. We want to be safe.'

Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (Editor, The Washington Post): Well, I think that the Democrats are trying to come back with the argument that the administration really has not adequately funded transportation legislation, some of which is designed to have these security measures in it to help transportation facilities avoid the kind of thing or defend against the kind of tragedy that we saw in London. And so the Democrats who are opposed to making the Patriot Act provisions that George referred to permanent are attacking it not just on the basis of whether or not the Patriot Act is in itself effective or overreaching but also trying to say the administration, while putting all of its--well, giving a lot of its attention at least to the Patriot Act really isn't doing enough in terms of basic homeland security measures to defend the transportation arteries, to defend the ports and other things like that. So they're trying to divert some of that attention away to some of these kind of nuts-and-bolts security issues.

GORDON: Laura, there are going to be people in Congress who are going to suggest those who want to see this act become permanent who are going to suggest they've already played watchdog. They've turned aside new sought powers by the Bush administration. The House recently voted by a wide margin to curtail the FBI's ability under the Patriot Act to seize things like library cards and bookstore records, etc.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Well, yes, and as in any negotiation, often certain sites will breathe a sigh of relief because they could say, `Well, it could be worse. We're not going to do the bookstore thing. We're not going to do the library thing,' so, you know, let's take a deep breath and be happy with it as it is.' And I think if the Bush administration can, though, make a very powerful argument and it's a very simple one, there have been no major--any significant attacks at all in the United States, unlike London last week, since September 11th since the Patriot Act was enacted, and they're going to argue that has a lot to do with the curbs that we've been able to put in place.

Just the other day, Michael Chertoff, the national homeland security chief, said that he believes that, you know, steps like being able to pick up immigrants on small offenses, police being able to be much more active in getting folks out of the country if they have any kind of criminal record, that that has helped to curb some of the potential acts. I think one of the things we don't know is what we've prevented. We know we're preventing things but we don't really know why.

GORDON: Hey, Joe, that's...

Mr. CURRY: Well, I think the problem with that is, though, if you take credit for it, are you going to take the blame? And that's the real trick here. They can't really take credit for not doing it because we don't know why. They may have decided to wait till we have less attention because if you're going to take the credit, you'd better be ready for the blame.

Mr. DAVIDSON: And it's also kind of like trying to prove a negative which is always very difficult.

GORDON: Yeah, that's...

Ms. WASHINGTON: But it's a very emotional argument and people feel more secure and I think a lot of people, a lot of regular American voters are feeling like they're willing to give away maybe a little bit of their freedom for a little bit of security.

Mr. CURRY: Do you feel more secure? I don't. Do you, Laura? Do you feel more secure?

Ms. WASHINGTON: No, I don't. I don't, but I think a lot of people do.

Mr. CURRY: I don't either.

Ms. WASHINGTON: And when you look at London last week and you say, `This is not happening here. They're going'--I mean, I think the message is then the terrorists are going elsewhere and...

Mr. DAVIDSON: But, you know, I mean...

Ms. WASHINGTON: ...I think that's a very powerful argument.

Mr. DAVIDSON: I was getting on the Washington Metro System that day and I was just thinking I had had two bags with me and I could simply walk on the subway with those bags, and I realized how easy it would be to do the same kind of thing in Washington or New York or anywhere else that was done in London; yet at the same time trying to make our subway stops and bus stops like airports certainly isn't practical. But that's the kind of thing. I mean, my point is to make you feel really secure, you would have to do things that simply are not workable.

GORDON: Isn't that part of the catch-22 that Washington finds itself in, to a great degree, the longer we go without another issue problem, terror scare here in the United States, the more comfortable people are going to become to some degree--it's human nature? The other end of that is they don't want to see those kinds of lines that people complain about at airports with subway systems and bus systems and the like and isn't that the catch-22?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, you know, I'm not so sure that after the bombings in London that people are feeling really more secure. I mean, even though it did not happen in the United States, I think people do understand that if it could happen in London, which after all has had to deal with terrorism far longer than the United States, much before 9/11 because of the situation in Northern Ireland for so many years, if it could happen there where they presumably have had some, you know, experience in training in anti-terrorism measures, I think people do understand it can happen here as well.

GORDON: All right. Let me turn our attention to Massachusetts and an interesting case that's coming up. A man was arrested during a New Year's Eve party at a private home. He's filed a lawsuit arguing that he has a constitutional right to be drunk on private property as long as he didn't cause a public disturbance. And what happened, obviously, is during a party that got a little loud, police came to calm it down, saw that he was drunk and they took him into what's called protective custody and locked him up for nine hours until the effects of the alcohol wore off. He's saying, `Look, I wasn't going to drive. I wasn't in the public square. I wasn't bothering anybody. I should be allowed to be drunk in private.'

Mr. CURRY: Well, I think...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, you know, there's...

Mr. CURRY: ...it's more complicated than that, Ed. First of all...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Exactly.

Mr. CURRY: ...he might have been throwing something at the cops when they came in. That's the first thing.

GORDON: Right. I said they came as a disturbance but ...(unintelligible) the party initially.

Mr. CURRY: OK. But the second part is--all right. I'm not through. The second part of it, though, is he picked up a camera and started videotaping them. That's when they really got upset with him. That led to these charges. It wasn't just a matter of him being drunk, but his point was, like, `If I'm at a private party, I can get drunk. I didn't plan to drive. I was going to spend the night here. Why are you arresting me?' and I think he had a good point.

GORDON: And at a private home, George Curry, I have every right to pick up a video camera and videotape what I choose as long as I am not interfering with your arrest.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, first of all, I think...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yeah, and there's no law against videotaping somebody.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Yeah. But, see, George, I think you know a lot of the details of that incident are alleged, and you know how it is when you get into a he said-she said, especially with the cops. We've all been at parties where the cops have shown up and you know things can get out of control and it's hard to know who's to blame. My issue with this case is that...

GORDON: Have we all been there, Laura, or is that--were you...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Now I know you all are going to agree. You know, you have to agree on that one. Anyway, yes, you can get drunk in your own home. The issue I have with this case is this was not his own home. He was visiting a friend. A friend was having the party. He alleges that he was planning on staying overnight, but this was not his home. This was a place that he was visiting. The cops' point of view on this is, yeah, he could go out, he could drive.

GORDON: Right.

Ms. WASHINGTON: He could hurt someone. He could hurt himself. So...

GORDON: But the lawsuit is public property is what their contention is.

Mr. DAVIDSON: But what's the significant difference if it was his friend's home...

GORDON: I'm sorry, private property, not public.

Mr. DAVIDSON: ...and the friend says, `Yes, he was going to spend the night'? So it's not just...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I don't...

Mr. DAVIDSON: ...this individual saying it, but if the friend backs it up, then what's the significant difference whether or not it's his friend's home or his own home?

Ms. WASHINGTON: That could be the case. I'm not sure that the friend was standing there with the cops when the argument was going on backing him up. And if that wasn't the case, the cops have to make a decision on the spot when they've got a conflict here, when they've got somebody who's potentially drunk. So, you know, I think you've got to remember the cops are in a position legally where they have to protect the public and they have to sometimes protect people from themselves. And if the cops believe...

Mr. CURRY: But that's not protecting the public, Laura. That's not protecting the public.

Ms. WASHINGTON: If the man was going to walk out the door and get in the car and drive, it most certainly was protecting the public.

Mr. CURRY: But if as ...(unintelligible) I agree with you on that, but if he's at a friend's house and plans to spend the night, what business is it of the cops?

Ms. WASHINGTON: I agree with you.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Ed, you know, I think there are competing interests here between sometimes you have to protect someone from themselves if somebody can get drunk to the point where they are actually a danger to themselves and not just the public, but here you don't necessarily have that evidence. You have somebody in a private home where they at least say they were going to stay there and there's apparently no evidence to the contrary that they were not going to stay there, they were not driving, and so I think you do have a situation where it comes down to a question of someone's right to kind of entertain themselves perhaps in an inappropriate manner but a manner that's not illegal and yet the police taking action. And I think that's the kind of thing that this will definitely end up in court over.

GORDON: All right. We'll see what comes of that case. Let's turn to public and private and now an interesting note on a story that we talked about very briefly because we wanted to protect the privacy of this person, and now we see they're coming out and putting all of the dirty laundry out. And that's Terry McMillan and her soon-to-be ex-husband who announced that he was gay. He, of course, was, many say, the reason that Terry was inspired, the muse if you will, to how Stella got her groove back. And the question here is not so much the McMillan squabble with her soon-to-be ex-husband, her estranged husband, but the idea of whether or not it's an interesting comment on our society that people now tend to go to the media, whether they be celebrity and with the advent of reality television or not, air their dirty laundry in public. It seems to be very, very commonplace.

Ms. WASHINGTON: It's about, I think...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, you know, it's been...

Ms. WASHINGTON: It's about money I think...

Mr. DAVIDSON: I was just going to say...

Ms. WASHINGTON: ...and publicity. Yeah. They go to the media because--in this case, both sides have been, you know, very prominent in the media. They know they're going to get a lot of attention. She's accused her husband of releasing this story or going public with this as a way of making it look like she was trying to get attention for her book. Either way, the book is going to--her next book, the book that she's got coming out now, is going to make a lot more money I think because of this publicity and afterwards. And the media and the public eat it up--eats this kind of thing up, and celebrities know it. That's why they go public with this stuff.

Mr. DAVIDSON: You know, I can somewhat understand perhaps only from monetary reasons why celebrities do this is for publicity, but as you mentioned, Ed, it's not just celebrities. I mean, look at all of the folks who would go on "The Jerry Springer Show." Look at all these people who go to--have these like divorce courts on TV. I mean, what is the motivation behind airing all of your domestic problems for a national television audience? You know, that amazes me. I can understand the celebrity doing it before I can understand just Joe Blow down the street.

Mr. CURRY: Of course, the problem here is you have a best-selling author, you have a movie and you have this story of this older woman and younger man, and so people kind of--you know, if something happens, that's part of it. You're a celebrity, it's going to be in the news anyway, but because the books and the movie and everything, it kind of feels--I don't think Terry McMillan needed this to get her book to sell it anymore. They sell quite well. I think she was actually devastated to find out that the man that she had married was gay and she alleges that he was gay long before they even got together. He knew it and he endangered her life. That's very important.

Mr. DAVIDSON: And, you know--but she's also saying that she was filing for divorce before this or she was ready to end the marriage before she found out. And it was when she told him that she wanted to break up the marriage was when he informed her that he was gay. Now, you know, I've got to wonder, you know, how is it you don't know for all of this time, where I saw Plummer, her husband, on television the other day saying that he didn't realize until he was 20 years old that he was gay? Well, maybe so, but it makes me wonder about that.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, actually I think he--I mean, she met him when he was 20. Now I think he's, like, 26 or 27. He's saying that he was confused. And I can make--and that he didn't realize--he's saying he didn't realize until much more recently. I can buy that argument, you know, but again, when you put your dirty laundry on the street, you make yourself open to, you know, the public's whims and cynicisms. And I think if you go down to the beauty show, you're going to hear a lot of women saying, you know, `Girl, please, you didn't know this? You were with him for six years. First of all, you're 22 years older than him. You're much more mature.' I don't think there's going to be a lot of sympathy for her side of the story here.

Mr. DAVIDSON: And wondering where the gay-dar is, huh?

Mr. CURRY: And with the Internet out there...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Pardon me? The gay-dar.

Mr. CURRY: ...all these documents are already on the Internet. Thesmokinggun.com, boy, has both sides of it, a lot of stuff out there, even to the point where it is alleged that she changed his password to iluvmen. You know, it's all the sordid details out there.

Ms. WASHINGTON: And a lot of women do research on their men before they make a commitment for that very reason, and certainly Terry McMillan had the resources and wherewithal to do some homework on this man before she got too far down the road.

GORDON: Have we really gotten to the point, Laura, that women are researching...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Oh, absolutely.

GORDON: ...like that honestly?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Absolutely. There's dating services that provide that kind of research for you. There are women--because of the access you can get on the Internet--who are checking these guys out, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

Mr. CURRY: But how can you check out whether somebody's gay?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, that's a--there are all kinds of reasons that you want to check men out.

Mr. CURRY: No, I say how? I don't know how you do it. How do you do it?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, you can start by asking him. I wonder if she ever did that?

Mr. CURRY: Well, you expect him to give you a right answer if they're on the down low?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Hey, ask his friends. You can do homework on that.

Mr. DAVIDSON: But, you know, it does speak to a different problem. I mean, George mentioned people being on the down low and that is a problem that's been written about, a problem in the black community of because of a certain level of homophobia in the black community, I guess that there are men who go both ways and who hide this information from their women and who do put them potentially at risk because of the increased likelihood of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. And so I mean that is a real issue that kind of goes beyond this kind of celebrity breakup.

GORDON: Oh, OK. Whoo. It's way too much for me.

Mr. CURRY: Ed doesn't like being researched. You know, I definitely...

GORDON: Well, you ain't got to worry about that, George Curry. All right. Laura Washington, thank you so much for joining us. Joe Davidson and George Curry, I appreciate it. Very stimulating conversation, and we'll keep a watch of the Patriot Act as we said to see in fact what happens and what comes up.

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