Roundtable Guests discuss a Supreme Court decision that could have a significant impact on racial discrimination lawsuits and the renaming of a Chicago street for a controversial Black Panther. Ed Gordon is joined by George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, and Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post.
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Guests discuss a Supreme Court decision that could have a significant impact on racial discrimination lawsuits and the renaming of a Chicago street for a controversial Black Panther. Ed Gordon is joined by George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, and Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's roundtable: a street in Chicago may be renamed for a controversial figure, and the President's job approval rating plummets. Joining us today to discuss these topics and more: from our Chicago bureau, Laura Washington. She's a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Robert George is in our New York bureau. He's an editorial writer for the New York Post. And George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service joins us from Maryland.

All right, folks, we want to talk a little bit about the president's approval rating and his surprise trip to Afghanistan, Robert George. We've got a little sound from the President. We'll take a listen to that and get your thoughts. Let's hear it, Taylor.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We're making progress of dismantling Al-Qaida. Slowly but surely, we're bringing the people to justice, and the world is better for it as a result of our steady progress.

GORDON: Now, the President says that he doesn't read polls. Even if he doesn't look at the newspapers, Robert George, there are people who tell him where he sits in these polls.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): Karl Rove does.

GORDON: Absolutely. And Rove has said he definitely takes the measure of these numbers. When you look at a surprise visit to Afghanistan, standing toe-to-toe, shoulder-to-shoulder with President Karzai, and the idea of saying, we're going to get bin Laden, one has to believe this is an attempt at boosting those numbers.

Mr. GEORGE: I would say so. Exactly. The particular poll--there is some question on methodology and things like that--but the fact is the President has been taking a hit, partly because of a feeling that Iraq is going close to civil war possibly, and frankly I think...

GORDON: The port situation.

Mr. GEORGE: The port situation definitely. You know, I might--I use the phrase that Dubai Ports was Arabic for Harriet Miers because it was a decision that really created a cleave between the president and his base. And so I think, by using this, by using the foreign policy, which is a tried and true method--well, I should say a foreign trip--which is a tried and true method for many presidents, he gets to go in Afghanistan. Even though there are some bits of violence there still, it's still perceived as being on a more successful direction than Iraq.

GORDON: Laura Washington, I have said this almost since the outset of the show: A foreign administration who really, particularly in the first term, seemed to have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed, particularly when it came to PR and press presentation--they have, over the course of the last 15 months or so, really spiraled out of control.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): You're right, and you noted the first term. Well, this is the second term, and that is part of the problem. I think, historically, you've seen second-term presidents get themselves into a lot of trouble. It's sort of the nature of the game, but this president has been hit with a convergence of bad news like no presidents that you've ever seen. You know, you talk about Harriet Miers. You talk about the port scandal. It's been hit after hit. You know, the Katrina disaster, the Valerie Plame investigation--which is ongoing--the lobbying scandal, Dick Cheney and his problems, and Iraq. Iraq has been the overarching issue that Bush just can't get off the table, so no wonder he wants to go to Afghanistan and talk about what he's doing there, because he's got a cleaner record there than he has in Iraq.

We're trying to wipe out terrorism. We're trying to wipe out al-Qaida. Well, we created dozens more al-Qaidas, and a lot of them are killing people in Iraq. And that's the issue that he can't get off the table. And that's one reason, I think, why his job approval is at a all-time low. He's at 34 percent, lower than it's ever been in his history of his administration.

GORDON: George Curry, here's an interesting point. NBC anchor Elizabeth Vargas sat down with the President this week and asked him whether or not he would see his presidency as slightly failed if, in fact, he leaves office without capturing bin Laden. Of course, I don't know of any president who admits failure, really, but his suggestion was that we're going to find him. We continue to find. Many people jokingly compare this to O.J. Simpson's tracking of the killer of his former wife. How much do you believe that you really feel that this government, this country, is spending the time, money, and effort to really track bin Laden?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): I think Bush definitely wants, still wants him dead or alive, as he said, but he's still Osama been Missing, as one of the senators said, but you know, don't count this guy out because he still bounces back. I mean, the Katrina thing was down, like, it was just one point or more--he was down by 35 percent. He went on this, you know, series of speeches, and I think this trip is the first of a series of events. Once he gets those numbers at rock bottom, they do watch the polls, and they'll come out with trying the offensive, trying to go out and sell his program.

Now, the problem he has now is a lot of the criticism is coming from both sides of the aisle, and so you're talking about an Arab state-owned company operating six U.S. ports, they're unified, both Democrats and Republicans, and so I think you'll see more and more Republicans trying to distance themselves from him as they get ready for midterm elections.

Mr. GEORGE: And you, Ed, you also have to keep in mind, though, that Osama bin Laden is the real killer. That is the difference between him and O.J., the O.J. situation. But George is correct, that you've got a situation where Republicans, members of the House, all of them, obviously, have to run for reelection. A third of Senate is up for reelection as well, and their political fortunes are now in a different direction than George W. Bush's. He's not running for reelection. They have to--and it is very, very hard to sell the Dubai ports deal to the folks back home. Even though--I mean, the President said yesterday he's going to stick with it--it's very, very tough for them to accept that, given the line on terror that he himself has drawn.

GORDON: Laura Washington, in this same poll, 60 percent of Americans said that they think the U.S. efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq were going badly, that compared to 36 percent who said that things were going well. George correctly points out that as we get closer to midterm elections, you're going to see people step away from what they see as controversial, but how much do you believe the American public will, in fact, see this as Congress's war as well?

Ms. WASHINGTON: I think, I don't think that this is going to be seen as Congress's war because you have to remember, the vast majority of Congress on both sides of the aisle--based, of course now, on false assumptions--but I think that people still see Bush, and rightly so, see Bush as the leader and the architect of this war. He set this war up as a war on terrorism. In fact, we've seen nothing but an increase in terrorism in Iraq since this war started.

But I also think it's really interesting--getting back to bin Laden for a minute--that he chose to bring bin Laden up now. Bin Laden is a symbol of the failure of his administration. It's a poster boy for failure for him, and it makes you wonder if there's something he knows, this administration knows, that we don't know--that he would choose to bring this up. He's been searching high and low. They've--I believe they, as George points out, that they have spent tons of resources trying to track this guy down. It makes me wonder if they know something about his whereabouts that we don't know, and we're going to be hearing something surprising soon about that.

GORDON: All right. Let's move our attention to another story that is surrounded by controversy. This in Chicago, and Laura, I'll start with you, in relation to this, since that is your city. Fred Hampton, slain state's chairman of the Black Panthers there, who had urged fellow members to Off The Pigs, in his day--now an ordinance has been advanced to have a street named after him. It would be called Chairman Fred Hampton Way in Chicago, and now, some of the police officers who, clearly, have taken and gotten their ire up, I should note, because of this are criticizing the city council for even attempting this street after Fred Hampton. Laura, talk to us about this.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, this--the city cops, specifically the police union, as you say, has gotten their ire up--but it was only a reaction to getting, you know, a question from a newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, about this issue. A city council committee had already approved this. It was on its way to the full council. The police are angry, as you say, because they see Fred Hampton as a symbol of violence against the police, and it was indeed true. The rhetoric of the times--I think rhetoric that was particulary designed by the Black Panthers as rhetoric that was critical of the police brutality of the times--which was very, very rampant. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who was also killed with him by the police, were people who were always speaking up against this, and they used the Off The Pigs stuff as a way of making the case that these cops are brutalizing our neighborhoods.

You have to remember, Fred Hampton didn't kill any cops. The cops killed him. He was brutally slain, in his bed, sleeping--along with Mark Clark in an apartment. Cops showed up. A barrage of bullets went into that apartment. A later investigation found that the shooting was all going one way. Virtually no--there was one shot that was fired out--and there was 100 shots that were fired in. He was murdered in his bed. No one is talking about the martyrdom of this guy, and I think that is what's, where you see the pushback from the black aldermen, who are saying, we're going to have this street, because they see him as a hero.

Mr. GEORGE: I would...

Mr. CURRY: Well, I think it was a complicated time. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

Mr. GEORGE: I'm sorry, George. I agree that I think it is a complicated time, and it may have been the rhetoric of the time. I just don't feel that that particular kind of a designation--I will be the first to admit that I don't understand Chicago politics...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GEORGE: ...we've got our own issues here in New York. But I just don't feel that it's an appropriate designation because--yes it is the rhetoric of the time, but it's a rhetoric that still has echoes. I mean the whole offing of the pigs sentiment I just, that seems to be the thing that he is most famous for.

GORDON: Would you in fact hold back a street designation, a building designation for someone like Malcolm X who had his own rhetoric as well as incendiary as anyone's?

Mr. GEORGE: That ship has kind of sailed actually since there are a number of Malcolm X designations, but the thing is though, you also have to remember though, Malcolm X went through an interesting journey, an interesting transition, which I think...

GORDON: Some would Mr. Hampton didn't have a chance to do that if he was killed at the age of 21.

Ms. WASHINGTON: He was murdered in his bed at the age of 21, so you're absolutely right, he didn't have a chance for that transition. Someone else who did go through a transition who spoke up on this yesterday was U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, longtime Congressman from Chicago's South Side who was a compatriot of...

GORDON: And a former Black Panther himself.

Ms. WASHINGTON: ...and Former Black Panther, was a compatriot of Fred Hampton and I haven't' heard the cops complain about him being elected a Congressman or doing all the good he has done in this community, even though he was a former Black Panther and used that same rhetoric that Hampton...

Mr. CURRY: Let's not forget here, let's not forget, we weren't just talking about people who, put it in context: people can have problem with it, but they weren't just saying go out and arbitrarily shoot cops, they were saying that cops and police brutality was part and parcel of the black community and that if they were going to be shot at, and then they were going to defend themselves.

Same thing can be considered defense, so let's not, let's put it in it's total context when we evaluate this and yes, you're talking about a block, it's not even a long block at that, for somebody who was shot by the cops. He wasn't shooting the cops, they shot him.

GORDON: Lest we forget, and that often happens, unfortunately, in the times when talking about the Black Panthers, one of the problems is, it's painted often, particularly by white media, as one-sided--they were only a rebel group. But the Black Panthers did a lot of good in communities that were looking for help and were not being helped anyplace else, Robert George.

Mr. GEORGE: I don't necessarily disagree with that and it may very well be the case that Hampton, if he had lived, he may have gone through some of the same kind of changes that Bobby Rush went through, that Malcolm X went through. It's true we don't know, but at the same time, giving somebody this designation just almost because he was killed by the cops that we feel that he should be given a street sign, I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good...

Ms. WASHINGTON: But that's not the argument. The argument is he was a fighter against discrimination, he ran a food program, he helped poor folks, in his short tenure. It wasn't just about him getting killed by the cops. It was a much bigger story than that.

GORDON: Let me turn our attention very, very quickly to the Smithsonian, the venerable institution in Washington, D.C., that will now host a hip-hop exhibit. The Smithsonian Institute announced plans to embark on a collecting initiative for a theme that will run, Hip-Hop Won't Stop: the Beat, the Rhymes, the Life.

Robert George, this clearly suggests now that hip-hop is here to stay and a real part of American culture.

Mr. GEORGE: I would definitely agree with that, though I think some of the purists might think that once something is institutionalized in a museum it means its actual, its time is over, but we're basically facing about three decades, I mean it started in the mid-70s, so it's there. When the Smithsonian is putting something in here, you kind of want to get the feeling that it wants to try and be a little bit more trendy because enough younger people aren't coming to museums. So, I'm not sure if that's such a great idea, but I think hip-hop is definitely here to stay and that's clear to see.

GORDON: George Curry, I can remember the beginnings of hip-hop and certainly much like the beginnings of rock and roll there were critics who suggested that this is just a passing fancy, would not become, and certainly could not envision, the powerful iconic machine and marketing tool it has become.

CURRY: I'm glad you admitted you at least were around the beginning of hip-hop. That's the first admission we've gotten from you.

GORDON: I was around pre-hip-hop.

(Soundbite of music)

GEORGE: You were around the beginning of rock and roll I think weren't you?

CURRY: Yes, but it's an admission and you say back to Run DMC and (Unintelligible) and all of them and I think it really does make statement that it's here to stay and it's accepted and it has worldwide influence.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well you know Robert you made the point about it looks like it's an attempt by the Smithsonian to look edge and hip and I think that's a good thing. I mean so much of the problem with our museums these is they are housing relics--they're housing dusty old things that nobody remembers because everybody that had anything to do with them is dead. I think that the fact that they're trying to...

GEORGE: That's the definition of a museum.

Ms. WASHINGTON: They're tying to respond to a younger audience, to get younger people into these institutions that we all pay for in one way or another, I think that's only a positive thing and you're looking at a genre that is living, it's evolving. Hip hop is not something that's past its prime, it's still at the peak of it's life. So I think that's a positive thing for museums to acknowledge that.

GORDON: Here's the interesting point George Curry, front and center yesterday when making this announcement along with Ice-T and a couple of others is Russell Simmons. And Russell, perhaps more than any other person in, with the roots of hip-hop, has made sure that this becomes much to his credit and his wallet, an existing and a lasting genre for America.

Mr. CURRY: He's certainly done that and he's gone a step beyond that in since he's tried to create a political movement as well, tried to empower these rappers and use their influence to get people to vote and that's a good thing as well.

Mr. GEORGE: And I think, you know, just making a quick link to a previous discussion too, it's, I think it's interesting obviously, you know, Ice-T was on hand there, one of his famous raps was Cop Killer and now he's there as we see hip-hop both institutionalized and he, of course, now plays a cop on TV. So it kind of shows how things can change over time.

GORDON: Laura anything wrong with the idea of what we see as the establishment becoming a part of hip-hop? To some degree, the juxtaposition is strange.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, yeah it is, but it's an acknowledgement that the establishment has to reach out to folks that are not necessarily part of its community. You know, hip-hop comes from young people for the most part who felt disenfranchised, who felt like their voices haven't been heard and by acknowledging that this is an important music and an important trend that we need to hear, maybe there is some way to build some bridges there and I think that's positive.

GORDON: Well, I guess you need a day job, because as Ice-T has told us many times, pimpin' ain't easy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

So, get the money where you can.

All right, Laura, George, Robert appreciate it, thanks very much.

Next up on NEWS AND NOTES: returning or I should say reuniting different branches of a family tree; a weekend gathering that included decedents of slaves and slave owners.

Plus, remembering a movie going experience before integration.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS AND NOTES from NPR News.

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