Sarah Palin Vs. David Letterman Host Michel Martin as she listens in as the Barbershop — Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Brian Bennett and Ruben Navarrette — discuss the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum shooting, the recent dust up between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and late night comedian David Letterman and, of course, the NBA finals.
NPR logo

Sarah Palin Vs. David Letterman

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sarah Palin Vs. David Letterman

Sarah Palin Vs. David Letterman

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time 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 writer and editor Brian Bennett. Welcome, everybody. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi, who happens to be right here with me in Washington.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, thanks, Michel. Hey fellows, how we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey, what's happening?

BRIAN BENNETT: Pretty good, man.


IZRAEL: Oh, man. Sadness hovers over the nation today and this week as, you know, behind the shooting at the Holocaust Museum here in D.C. Now, guard Stephen Tyrone Johns was killed, and the 88-year-old gunman, James Von Brunn, was wounded in an exchange and remains in critical condition.

Of course, we here at the Barbershop, like everybody, would like to extend our condolences to family and friends of Stephen Tyrone Johns. His son, I saw him this morning on the news, just broke my heart. Ruben, your piece in, what's up, man? The R? How you living?

NAVARRETTE: What's up, baby? How you doing? You're lucky. You're sitting there next to the beautiful Michel Martin. That's nice.

IZRAEL: Man, hoo-whee. Shout-out to Billy.

MARTIN: We wish we had - we wish we had happier circumstances to get together.

IZRAEL: Absolutely. Listen, hold on. Listen, bro, listen. You know, (speaking foreign language), right? But yo, I read your piece in CNN, and I think about - you were talking about how we need stronger ways to deal with hate speech and hate crimes, but you know, I got to say, I got to say, mapping Reverend Wright to Von Brunn, I mean, that's like a fail to me, bro. I mean, we have to draw a line between just the abuse of free speech and hate in the raw. Come on, man. You got to do better than that.

NAVARRETTE: Well, true. Here's the background on that.


NAVARRETTE: I mean, obviously, for those who are just tuning in to the debate here, there's an unfortunate case of bad timing. Our friend, Reverend Jeremiah Wright let loose with a really unfortunate and ugly comment this week about how - when asked, does he still talk to Barack Obama? He says, no, them Jews won't let him talk to me, an obvious reference to...

MARTIN: And I have the - forgive me, Ruben. I have the clip. It's very hard to understand, but I just want to - just in case anybody has any doubt that this actually was said, let me play a little bit of it. And I just want to warn you that it is very hard to hear. Here it is.

Unidentified Man #1: Have you spoken with him since he's been in the White House?

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Them Jews ain't gonna let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me five years from now, when he's a lame duck. Or eight years, when he's out of office. He can't - remember...

Man #1: If you had anything to say to him, what would you say to him?

WRIGHT: The same thing I've said to him all along. Don't let being in politics change who you are as a person.

MARTIN: As to this question of whether he'll talk to him five years from now, I very much doubt that, but that's in fact what he said. So I just want to let people know that you're reporting accurately.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, it was a dumb remark. It comes off ugly. Them Jews don't let him talk to me. I mean, he's referring to, obviously, some of Barack Obama's closest advisors in the White House, who happen to be Jewish, some of his handlers, so to speak. And I think that again, a lot of people in the media, I saw Wolf Blitzer on CNN do a segment on this. Asked Donna Brazile her perspective. This was bad timing.

This is not to say that there's a moral equivalency between the shooter at the museum and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but we do see shades of anti-Semitism in both comments. I don't think there's any doubt that Reverend Jeremiah Wright is showing himself to be an anti-Semite. We already knew that, but now he's making it plain, and it's unfortunate.

It's unfortunate because the president has said, in his response to the museum shooting, well, we have to be vigilant. We have to be vigilant, and we have to watch out for this kind of stuff wherever it lurks, including, apparently, back home in Chicago.

MARTIN: Well, here's my question, Ruben, and I take your point. His comments were bigoted. I don't understand what other interpretation could there be. But my question is, your original piece was about arguing for why we need to have enhanced penalties for hate crimes. That to me is like hospitalization, not inoculation.

Hospitalization is expensive, inoculation is not. And what I'd like to understand is, what would keep people from doing this? We cannot, you know, regulate speech. We're not going to throw people in jail for having opinions that are bigoted, that we don't like, but I guess I wish we could spend more time thinking about - I'd rather that the man hadn't been shot. I'd rather the man would not have...

NAVARRETTE: I understand. I understand.

MARTIN: ...walked in there and hurt the man. And so getting, giving the man a federal...

NAVARRETTE: No, I understand.

MARTIN: ...adding 10 years to the sentence of an 88 year-old man doesn't do it for me. That's my question.

NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm. Yes. I'd rather have, I'd rather know that that young boy's, would have his father growing up...

MARTIN: Brian...

NAVARRETTE: ...opposed to the alternative. But you got to drop the hammer though. There are folks out there who say no. All crimes are motivated by hate. We shouldn't have hate crime legislation. We shouldn't have extra penalties. BS. You know this is a crime that didn't just impact the people at that museum. It impacted the entire country.

MARTIN: Right.

NAVARRETTE: You know the entire country was wounded by this so there ought to be a heavier penalty.

MARTIN: Brian wrote about this too, this week.

BENNETT: Yes. I wrote about the controversy over the DHS, the Homeland Security report from April 7th that talked, that basically talked about some of the possible homegrown threats that were coming up here in the United States. Particularly surrounding right-wing causes and...

MARTIN: What motivated the report, by the way? Why did they generate the report?

BENNETT: The report was generated as a way to look at, not just what our external threats are, but what our threats are inside the United States - to national security and public safety. And, and it's trying to identify okay, where could this, where could some of these attacks be coming from here inside the United States? Like the Oklahoma bombing for example - Oklahoma City bombing. And they were identifying and got - it got very controversial. They were identifying some of the causes, potential causes for hate crimes. One was the radicalization in the pro-life movement, the anti-immigration movement.

We saw the murder of George Tiller on May 31st that realized some of those fears. And the conservatives, talk show hosts just jumped all over this report and successfully silenced the Department of Homeland Security. They pulled the report, Napolitano pulled back from it. Said it should be rewritten and be more useful. But it was identifying some serious trends that exist in the United States. One of the things that touched a chord was, identified that potential that returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan could be targeted by hate groups.

MARTIN: But they said returning, I think the report, and I read it, said returning veterans...


MARTIN: ...who are having trouble readjusting. It didn't say all returning veterans. It said returning veterans who are having difficulty readjusting could provide so...

BENNETT: Right. They're not the targets.

MARTIN: And so what's the status of that now? Are now they, is Homeland Security looking at it again saying maybe there was something there?

BENNETT: I mean essentially Homeland Security is, I mean the advisors inside Homeland Security feel like hey, we were actually sounding the alarm on something that's going on here, and they sent the report back basically for scrubbing, for sort of political correctness. But, you know, the idea of returning veterans is very controversial because yeah, we're proud of these guys who went over there and fought, but just like any population you're going to have people coming back who have mental problems who could fall off the deep end.

MARTIN: Arsalan, finally, you've written so much about hate crimes over the course of the years - related to different groups. I know this has touched you very deeply because we talked it.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, for me at least, as a civil rights lawyer, I want to get back to the human tragedy of this all. You know someone who's, who works for racial and religious tolerance amongst people of all colors and races and religions. You know just the, this, as a Washingtonian you know this is an attack in our city and I actually had a Facebook status update where I said that I think there should now be commissioned a bronze statue of Officer Steven Tyrone Johns to sit adjacent to the Holocaust Museum to remind us that hatred knows no color, it still exist today, and this is something that we as Americans still have to address.

MARTIN: I think we also don't think about these men and women who stand guard at these public institutions. I remember a couple of years when the guards at the U.S. Capitol were killed and they were...

IFTIKHAR: Capitol. I was inside the Capitol at the time it happened.

MARTIN: ...who stand, you know, at the ready to protect the rest of us and I think it's...


MARTIN: ...well worth remembering and thank you for that. But Jimi, I know you wanted to talk about so on a lighter note but...


MARTIN: ...lighter, but not you know completely unserious. There's this kind of kerfuffle between David Letterman and Sarah Palin.

IZRAEL: Yeah. It's kind of problematic. You know David Letterman and Governor Sarah Palin, they kind of going at it in a war of words over jokes dude made about Bristol. You know, and before we, we got some tape on that I bet, right?

MARTIN: Yes. But he says the joke was about Bristol, but the Alaska governor does not agree with that. Let's set the table. Late-night talk show host David Letterman made Palin the target of his Top 10 List. This was the joke that set it off. Here it is.

DAVID LETTERMAN: You know who was in town this weekend? Went to a Yankee game? Sarah Palin...

PAUL SHAFFER: That's right.

LETTERMAN: ...Governor of Alaska?


MR: Do you remember Sarah Palin?



MR: One awkward moment though, during the game, maybe you heard about it, maybe you saw it on one of the highlight reels? One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.



MARTIN: And she was not pleased, because the daughter who was at the game was not the daughter who has the child out of wedlock.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: It was the little one. It's the 14-year-old. And she was very upset.

IZRAEL: I, oh, oh.

MARTIN: So she responded on John Ziegler's show.

IZRAEL: Okay. Well, you know...

MARTIN: You want to hear that?

IZRAEL: Yes. Go for that.

MARTIN: Let's hear that.


MARTIN: Here's what she said. She went on John Ziegler's radio show - conservative talk show host. Here it is.

SARAH PALIN: For him to pick up on such a thing, a distortion that again is based on a slow news day evidently, not having anything else to talk about, that's pretty pathetic, good old David Letterman.

MARTIN: And she went on to say in a written statement, and she's also been on "The Today Show" to talk about the fact that she feels that these are inciting sexually, sexually - laughter incited by sexually perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us that some Hollywood, New York entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understand.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: That acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl who could be anybody's daughter contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men who use and abuse others.

You know I was feeling her until that Hollywood, New York dig. I was feeling her until that dig.

IZRAEL: You know what? You know what?

MARTIN: All right.

IZRAEL: And Ruben, help me out here. And...


IZRAEL: know, listen, mark today on your calendar because I want, I am on team Palin for this, because guess what?


IZRAEL: Guess what? You know, there's, like in the last maybe 10 or 15 years it's become really fashionable to take digs and to make kind of sexually inappropriate comments, since Britney Spears I guess, you know about underage girls. And guess what? Or like, you know, girls are just too young.


IZRAEL: I mean everybody's somebody's kid, right?


IZRAEL: But if anybody gets in my daughter in the public sphere, I'm not going to go...


IZRAEL: ...on the radio and get at them. I'm coming...


IZRAEL: ...what's up, Dave?


IZRAEL: I'm going to be at your pad.


IZRAEL: You know and...


IZRAEL: ...this is really serious.


IZRAEL: I mean this is, it's so disturbing that our little girls have become targets for late-night TV. And you know, she's a civilian. I said this about; I said this about something else. You know I forgot some time ago, but leave the civilians out of it.

MARTIN: Well the only point I think, the only just, I'm not defending Letterman, but his only point is that he did, he did not think he was talking about the 14-year-old.

NAVARRETTE: Yes. He didn't think, right?

MARTIN: He believed he was talking about the 18-year-old.

IZRAEL: He shouldn't have talked about either daughter.

NAVARRETTE: If you believe that. He didn't think.

IZRAEL: Both daughters are civilians. Both daughters are civilians.

NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben.

IZRAEL: Go ahead though, go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: He didn't. I don't understand how somebody who makes 35 million dollars a year like David Letterman and who has a whole team of writers working for him couldn't have seen this coming when he scripted a joke, you heard it yourself, talking about what happens specifically at that game, not knowing that the 14-year-old was the one at the game and not Bristol? I mean, you got to do better than that. For 35 million dollars...


NAVARRETTE: ...the writers should have caught that and seen that coming and they didn't. And now, this is not about Palin, this is not about thin-skinned politicians, and it's not about jokes. You know as again, like Jimi, as the father of a daughter, you got to walk it like you talk it. If we're going to be serious about not exploiting children...

IZRAEL: Right. Exactly. Right.

NAVARRETTE: ...if we're going to be serious about getting on, we get all worked about these people who come out with dolls that are oversexualized, you know?

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Because you know the Bratz dolls and stuff, so the liberals...

MARTIN: Or how about Imus?

NAVARRETTE: So the liberals...

MARTIN: Or how about Imus? I mean how about Imus? You know we talked about Imus and his comments about these basketball players.

IZRAEL: Imus was a little different. Imus was a little different.


NAVARRETTE: Liberals want to freak out over that stuff, but they want to say this is okay?

MARTIN: Because we found that offensive.

IZRAEL: It was offensive.

NAVARRETTE: You know that's not going to fly.

MARTIN: I'm not sure people are saying it's okay. I don't know, Brian what did you want to...

BENNETT: I think I mean...


BENNETT: I think Jimi makes a good point. But this whole thing seems very mutually beneficial to me. I mean Letterman this week is in a ratings contest with Conan O'Brien who just started his new show in the same time slot and he's trying to overtake "The Tonight Show." And Sarah Palin is trying to position herself as, you know, a major, major playing going forward in the Republican Party. And especially that line about Hollywood and New York. I mean that speaks such a piece of red meat for her constituency. So...

IZRAEL: That's a trip, man.

BENNETT: I mean going on "The Today Show" and stuff, and I think Jimi's right. I think she's bringing up a good point about we shouldn't be talking about people's young daughters in this way. But there's a...

MARTIN: I think you make an interesting point because to me, it seems to me you don't have to, I can pay you money and tell you there're plenty people in Hollywood and New York who found that offensive. And so why are you going out of your way to sort set them up as some isolated island? I mean what's the, that's, I don't know. Arsalan, you had something.

IFTIKHAR: It was a bad joke. I mean it was a lowbrow, bad joke. Even you know as Letterman said during his apology. He's like I have thousands of jokes that are just bad. And I think that you know it was just one of those lowbrow things that - maybe something funnier would've been, you know, in his Top 10 List if he said that you know while Sarah Palin was in New York she was told that she was going to Vogue and she was disappointed to find out that she wasn't going to Rogue Magazine, you know?


IFTIKHAR: Something like that. But it's a, you know it was just a bad joke.

MARTIN: If you're just tuning in, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with journalist Jimi Izrael, Brian Bennett, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Ruben Navarrette in the Barbershop. We only have a couple of minutes left, but we can't leave it without talking about the NBA finals. We can not, can we? Can we?

IZRAEL: Aw man. No. No. Game four of the finals the LA Lakers take down the Orlando Magic by eight in overtime. Final score?

BENNETT: 99-91.

IZRAEL: Aw man. And Dwight Howard just dumped two critical free throws.



IZRAEL: You know what? As Rabbi Alyssa Stanton might say, oy vey, brother. You know what? What happened, A-train?

IFTIKHAR: You know, for true, for true NBA fans it's always nice to see OG veteran, NBA journeymen like Derek Fisher, number two...

NAVARRETTE: Yes. Old man was right there.

IFTIKHAR: ...drop some clutch three-point dimes. On in the right...

MARTIN: Old man Fisher, he's younger than I am.


IFTIKHAR: Old man Fisher...

BENNETT: That's what Maxine Waters called him.


IFTIKHAR: One in regulation, one in overtime. And I do want to note that another hero from the came was seven year old Gina Marie Incandela, a local Orlando autistic girl who sings the "Star-Spangled Banner" before Orlando games. They were undefeated every time she sang. They brought her last night. They're down 3-1 and my man Brian Bennett here is who is a Lakers fan and...

BENNETT: I grew up a Lakers fan. I'm so happy they're up 3-1. And also Lakers are 6-0 after a loss right now in the playoffs. So you know I got a real good feeling about this. Although, you know, I'd be okay if it went to a couple extra games because I just love watching Stan Van Gundy march up and down the sidelines like a bulldog. That guy is good TV.


IFTIKHAR: Well, and I do have to note that I am wearing my beat LA T-Shirt. So I'm routing for...

MARTIN: You are. What's up with that?

IFTIKHAR: Yes. No matter who the Lakers are playing, I mean they could be playing you know Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Don...

NAVARRETTE: They're not the Celtics.


IFTIKHAR: Yes. Exactly.

MARTIN: And he has the nerve to have a green, the bright green thing. It's like I need sunglasses with his...

IFTIKHAR: Home for the Magic with the leprechaun.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there. There's a, if you have not seen it, this Corrine, Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Maxine Waters wearing their respective team jerseys talking trash on YouTube.


MARTIN: It is not to be missed. We'll have a link on our...

IFTIKHAR: It's hilarious.

MARTIN: I did think they were going to start pushing each other. I don't know. I was a little concerned.


MARTIN: I was a little concerned. Ruben, we didn't get your pick for the finals.

NAVARRETTE: Pulling for the Magic. Pulling for the Magic. Looking for the underdog on this.


NAVARRETTE: The Lakers and the new Yankees. Are you kidding me?


IZRAEL: LA take them. LA take them.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for the and TV1 online. He joined us from our studios in Washington, along with Brian Bennett, a contributing editor and blogger at And Arsalan Iftikhar, the founder of and a civil rights attorney. They were all here with me. The outlier, of course, Ruben Navarrette, who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and He was in San Diego.


MARTIN: Thank you all so much.


NAVARRETTE: Thank you, E.

BENNETT: All right.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.