Roundtable: NSA, Freeman on Black History Month
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
On today's Roundtable, a Web site sends anonymous e-mails warning people that they might be infected with HIV, and Morgan Freeman calls the concept of Black History Month ridiculous. But first, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will speak with reporters on the legalities of the National Security Agency's surveillance operations. There is still debate over the president's authorization of this, which he acknowledged over the weekend. Joining us to talk about this topic are our Roundtable participants. George Curry is editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service in Laurel, Maryland. We also have with us Callie Crossley, social cultural commentator on the television show "Beat The Press." And in New York, Pedro Noguera, professor in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY ("Beat The Press"): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So, Callie, let me start with you. What is the implication of this NSA move?
Ms. CROSSLEY: In general? I...
CHIDEYA: Yes, for the American people, is this going to cause a shift in opinion on things like the Patriot Act?
Ms. CROSSLEY: I think absolutely, but I think also that we have to be aware that any time that the president comes out and says, `Yeah, I did it but I did it because of al-Qaeda and I did it because of terrorism,' that he's throwing red meat in front of congressional hawks. And so what we've had initially as a response is, `Look, it's got to be legal. It's within the bounds because we gave him the authority to wage war on these terrorists. I mean, we're in a different'--that's a word we keep hearing--`a unique kind of battle. We have to use different kinds of tools. Sometimes we have to stretch beyond where we've been.' So I think those folks are going to absolutely stand up for that, and I also--what I worry about is that if you hear the words terrorism and al-Qaeda and the way that they've been used by this administration, it stirs fear in ordinary Americans who say, `I just want to be safe. I just want to be safe. So if it means, OK, maybe it looks like he stepped outside his bounds, I'm willing to go with that.' And that's what we're really talking about here.
I think as long as there can be a case made not only for the folks who have all along--and particularly black folks, we know about being surveiled--make the case that this is the kind of key element, a government surveying its own citizens, that's a part of the Iraq that we said we don't want to support. That's the reason we're supposed to be over there upholding freedom is to get rid of this kind of stuff. And yet we have an administration that now has said, `Yeah, I did it and I think I did it for a good cause.' I am appalled and shocked, and I'm hoping that people get beyond the politics and understand that this is very serious business for all of us as American citizens.
CHIDEYA: Pedro, what recourse does the American public have when we hear about a case like this where the government is breaking its own laws?
Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (New York University): Well, I think largely it's political. I think that we have to make it an issue in the next election, given the large number of people now who are held in custody who have not been charged, given the fact that one of those major cases in Florida involving the Palestinian professor was recently ruled that the charges were invalid and he was set free. There's good reason to be concerned that the government is overstretched, that they played to our fears, as the previous speaker pointed out, that they have violated our rights and continue to do so. And I think it has to be made a political issue and when possible that there have to be legal charges filed against the administration for violation of civil liberties.
CHIDEYA: George, what's...
Mr. GEORGE CURRY (National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): This is one of...
CHIDEYA: Go ahead.
Mr. CURRY: This is one of those issues that unites both the left and the right. We've seen some odd coalition we've seen earlier on the Patriot Act itself. People are concerned about the violation of their privacy. They're not worried about the administration having authority. The United States has plenty of authority, have these special courts. They'll meet in secret, but they'll never get turned down when they request warrants. It's already set up specifically for examples like this. And to go in and say, `I'm going to decide when I want to execute a warrant without any judicial review' is what people object to.
CHIDEYA: Let's move on to another topic because we have covered a little bit about the whole NSA with Professor David Cole. Iran. The US is looking for ways to handle Iran while trying to get diplomatic support for isolating it. They still consider this Islamic regime part of the axis of evil. The US has dubbed Iran the world's worst state sponsor of terrorism, and now there's a question in Iran about the Holocaust. The leader of the country says, `Oh, the Holocaust didn't happen.' So does that statement change the state of play in the international community on Iran, Pedro?
Prof. NOGUERA: Perhaps. Perhaps, because now the Europeans will be less likely to oppose sanctions against Iran. But I think we have to be clear here. The United States' options with respect to Iran are fairly limited because it's preoccupied with Iraq. It cannot take on another military confrontation at this time. So we're really looking at a political set of strategies for dealing with Iran, and even there, the options are fairly limited. We have to work with Western Europe to figure out an approach that's going to be effective, and ultimately we'll have to work with other Middle Eastern nations to figure out how to approach Iran. The real question is: What kind of government will come into power in Iraq? And how close will they be to Iran? And the fact is that many of the Shiite parties are very closely aligned with the governments in Iran. So I think we could be seeing a much bigger problem in the near future.
Ms. CROSSLEY: I think that this is a case for some covert action, if you will, and by that I mean covert diplomatic action. Take this stuff off the front page and this is what folks who are knowledgeable about this should be doing, meeting with whomever they can on the global front to talk to these folks in Iran because you cannot just not talk to them. I mean, you're going to have to have some conversation. They're too important in the region. But I think if you get it off the front page, so that there's not this perry and thrust--`I said this. Now you said this. And now we're not talking to you. And now we're not going to do this'--then maybe something can happen, but I agree with Pedro. There are very limited kinds of responses, but you've got to keep some kind of channel of communications open.
CHIDEYA: And there are, in fact, all sorts of back channels of communication. At one point--I don't know if it's still the case--Switzerland was a clearing house for an intersection with Cuba. We don't have diplomatic relations with Cuba, but you can send a message through Switzerland. George, what about Callie's idea of keeping the back channels open?
Mr. CURRY: Well, look, let's talk about the front channels first. People have said all along that if you want to go after anybody, you would go after Iran before you go after Iraq. I mean, to say they're the worst sponsors of state terrorism, I mean, people already knew that all along and that's why people are really confounded by Bush's decision to pick Iraq over Iran if you're going to go after somebody. But we already have sanctions in place. We're working with our allies in Europe. There's not a whole lot more we can do I don't think, and certainly where we are militarily, we can't really do a whole lot with Iran.
CHIDEYA: Now, George, I know you're going to love this topic. Morgan Freeman and the concept of Black History Month as ridiculous. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.
(Soundbite from "60 Minutes")
Mr. MIKE WALLACE: Black History Month you find ridiculous. Why?
Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): You're going to relegate my history to a month.
Mr. WALLACE: Oh, come on.
Mr. FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Well, come on. Tell me.
Mr. WALLACE: Well, I'm Jewish.
Mr. FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?
Mr. WALLACE: No, there isn't one.
Mr. FREEMAN: Oh, do you want one?
Mr. WALLACE: No. No. I...
Mr. FREEMAN: No, I don't either. I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
CHIDEYA: That's Morgan Freeman last night on CBS' "60 Minutes." George, what do you think?
Mr. CURRY: Well, I saw that and I think he misses a point. First of all, you just don't have black history month. You have Latinos, Asians, Native Americans all celebrate their history, and the whole reason they do that in the first place is because there are exclusions from the American history. I mean, what month is White History Month? All 12, and we know that. So I think it takes a special emphasis because we're not getting our history integrated into the text. They're doing a better job now, but still a long way to go and that's the whole purpose and I think he misses the point.
CHIDEYA: Pedro, you're Afro-Latino. You've got two months to celebrate in at least. Do you approve of this concept? Do you think it's still relevant?
Prof. NOGUERA: I think that Morgan Freeman's raising an important point, although I agree with George that we have to remember why the month was created in the first place and that's because of the historic exclusion of black history. But the fact is that what we should be moving toward is the inclusion of black and Native American and Latino history throughout the year because that's American history and that we should challenge the efforts to render invisible and to stifle any discussion of the contributions and of the atrocities that have been committed throughout history in this country against various peoples of color. So I think he's raising an important point. Whether or not the way to approach it is to abolish Black History, I don't know if that's necessarily the way to go at this time, but I think the idea of having more inclusive approach makes far more sense.
CHIDEYA: Callie, if Black History Month disappeared, what would happen to all those ad sponsorships in black magazines? What about the free shrimp at the Black History Month buffet? Where would we be?
Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, that certainly would go away, but I think the larger issue is just an opportunity to pause and reflect on the contributions of African-Americans in this country. And, remember, it began with a day. Then it went to a week. Then it went to a month. One only hopes that it eventually comes to an integration into all of the history books that are out there. And I think we've moved toward that. I mean, there's a lot of scholarship out there that just would not have been supported in a very serious way. While there may be the parties, some scholarship has been supported as a result of some focus on this history that was not taught in schools across the board. But I think what I want to say...
CHIDEYA: In fact, Philadelphia is now saying that all students have to take black history.
Ms. CROSSLEY: There you go. I mean, one of the things that worries me about celebrities--and I have a great deal of respect for Morgan Freeman and I know where he was going, but I think they have to be so careful to understand that when they make a statement like that, it's then thrown out there and used, in a way, to go against the very effort that I think he would support, which is that there are people--everybody should be learning this. My history should be celebrated. You should understand that across the board. But it gets twisted in the other way and it's just kind of distressing in that manner.
CHIDEYA: Pedro, you're a professor. What role can the university play in integrating different ethnic histories, women's history, etc., into mainstream curricula?
Prof. NOGUERA: Well, we have to make sure first of all that black faculty are not limited to Afro-American studies departments. Black faculties should be in every department because we contribute to English literature, to science, to the social sciences. So we need to move away from this idea that black history or black contributions have to be in one set, separate departments where they can be easily marginalized and dismissed. We have to ensure that we are fully integrated and included throughout the university curriculum and throughout core syllabus, that students are reading works written by black authors and scholars, and that's I think the approach that we need. That's what Morgan Freeman should have spoken about yesterday, not eliminating Black History Month.
CHIDEYA: And, George, you get the final word. You're working obviously with a consortium of African-American newspapers who are going to focus on black history every month of the year. How can you also get white-owned media to do a fair job of integrating black history into the year-round process?
Mr. CURRY: Well, I don't know if we can. You know, I've been in journalism 35 years and almost half that time in white-owned media, and I've been really disappointed. Have we made progress? Sure, we've made progress. But until you make those newsrooms look like America, you're not going to have any significant change, and we're still a long way from that.
CHIDEYA: All right. In Maryland, that was George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. In Boston, Callie Crossley, social cultural commentator on the television show "Beat The Press." And in New York, Pedro Noguera, professor in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. Thank you all three for joining us.
Mr. CURRY: Thank you.
Ms. CROSSLEY: Thank you.
Prof. NOGUERA: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.
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