MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for our trip to the Barbershop. That's our weekly conversation where we talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are tech writer and tech entrepreneur Anil Dash. He's with us from The Radio Foundation Studio in New York City. Hi, Anil.
ANIL DASH: Hello.
MARTIN: And here with us in our studios in Washington, D.C., are the Rev. Kenn Blanchard. He's an ordained Baptist minister and a pro-gun activist. And he has a blog and a podcast called Black Man With A Gun. Welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again. It's been awhile.
KENN BLANCHARD: Thank you so much for the invitation.
MARTIN: Last but certainly not least, Gene Demby. He's the lead blogger for NPR's Code Switch team, which, as you know, focuses on race and ethnicity. Nice to have you back with us, too.
GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So here's what we - the first thing we wanted to talk about is something that a lot of people have been paying attention to. Earlier this week, President Obama announced that he's going to pursue executive action on a number of gun safety measures. But that news was - I don't know, almost overcome I might say by something else that happened in the press conference. And this was - you know, we're on the radio so you can't see this, but there were some tears running down the president's cheek as he talked about meeting with the families of mass-shooting victims, some of whom were there with him at the event. And this set off all this speculation about whether or not this was crocodile tears and so forth. So Rev. Blanchard, I'm going to start with you 'cause I know you have a different opinion than the president does about gun safety measures, gun control measures. What did you think about that?
BLANCHARD: If I was in the president's shoes right now, the tears would be appropriate. I would cry, too, because people like my aunt Bert (ph) who actually love him to tears, will not listen to anything else that anybody else says because her president means this stuff and he was crying and he's sincere. And it hit home with the people who love him.
MARTIN: But not you. I'm asking about...
BLANCHARD: No, I'd do it if - if I was in his shoes. I don't think - I think it was crocodile tears, actually.
MARTIN: You do?
MARTIN: You think it was fake.
MARTIN: Really? Why do you think that?
BLANCHARD: You're the leader of the free world. You are a manager bar none. You are on the top of your game. That guy, that woman, that - whoever's in that spot does not cry.
MARTIN: Does not cry.
BLANCHARD: Does not cry.
MARTIN: OK. Anil, what do you think?
DASH: Well, you know, I watched a little bit of the conversation and the speech that he did. And I think right before that, he had referenced one of the dads who was there had been the father of one of the kids killed in Newtown, and, you know, I have a little boy who's 4 almost. He's going to be 5 in a few weeks, the same age as those kids were. And I know that the president spent time with the parents at Newtown - and, I mean, obviously, you know, Gabby Giffords was there, a lot of folks who had been victims of gun violence were there. But, you know, he's there with one of these dads who lost their kid, and I think anybody who has a kid - if you can stand next to somebody who is telling the story of losing their child by - for any reason, let alone losing a child to violence - and not tear up, boy, I don't know what you're made out of because, I mean - and I think this is a conversation about, you know, guns in particular but broaden it out to masculinity and what it is to be a man in the public sphere and what tears mean. Boy, I think we can do with a lot more leaders in - on a big stage who are not afraid to cry when talking about something like children dying, like, talk about things actually impact people's lives. I think - I don't - I never questioned it. You know, I'm, of course, a big-city liberal and all those other things, but every time I saw, you know, John Boehner cry, I thought - I think it's sincere. I think it's actually - for as much as I disagree with his policies or whatever else he brought up, I never questioned that that was not only real but I think probably the best thing about him. And it's very human and thoughtful.
MARTIN: Well, what about that? Gene, you want a piece of this?
DEMBY: Sure. It seems like, you know, how much you respond to this as crocodile tears depends on sort your partisan affiliation. But it seems like some of this is about Obama himself, right? He's a self-described...
MARTIN: Yeah, I was going to say why - like, I don't remember people saying that John Boehner was crying crocodile tears. He used to cry all the time. In fact, let me have a - I'll just play a short clip of this. This is one of his more famous moments. He was doing an interview on "60 Minutes." Let's - can we play that?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")
JOHN BOEHNER: Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American dream, like I did, is important.
MARTIN: Did you - I want to - did you think - Kenn, did you - Rev. Kenn, did you think that John Boehner was faking?
BLANCHARD: That didn't even feel right. I mean, if I - as a Marine, if my commander starts to weep, I'm looking at him like, what's wrong? I - I am a dad. I understand the love, of loss and grief like anybody. I weep in the pulpit. But there's a time and a place for everything. So...
MARTIN: Gene, what do you think?
DEMBY: How is that different from being in the pulpit, though? If you're weeping in the pulpit, that's both sincere but it's also rhetorical, right? I mean, you're trying to get across - that you're trying to get across how sincere that you feel this thing you're saying. So is that artificial, or is that just sort of a magnification of the way you feel as a way to broadcast...
BLANCHARD: On that one, I agree with you.
DEMBY: So is that different then if Obama's doing - if the president is doing it in this press conference? Is that sort of different from what you're doing in the pulpit?
BLANCHARD: Yeah, only because if you're set up for press, you know why you're there. It's not - with Mr. Boehner, I might have to disagree now that I say that. But it's - press releases - you know you're going to be in the media. You know folks are going to take your stuff left and right and in a circle. You're not on that same magnifying glass as the pulpit...
MARTIN: So are you saying - wait a minute, are you saying that you think it was fake because you - because you assume that if you're in the media, you've got yourself under control, or is it that...
BLANCHARD: No, you know where you're at.
MARTIN: Yeah, so...
BLANCHARD: You know all your stuff's going to be out there. So everything you do has to be planned. You've probably got five people...
MARTIN: So John Boehner was fake, too.
BLANCHARD: Yeah. Now...
MARTIN: You do? Now that you think about it, you do, too? And you think - or actually, really what I was wondering is does this offend your idea what it means to be a leader? Is that really, like, the issue is for you?
DEMBY: I mean, Obama's...
MARTIN: Final thought, Gene...
DEMBY: You know, his whole demeanor is that he's stoic. So I wonder how much of this is about sort of just him - this is not emotion. I think the only time I remember him crying was I think when his grandmother died. I think just before...
MARTIN: Well, no, at Sandy Hook, I mean, there was...
DEMBY: At Sandy Hook, correct.
MARTIN: Just before he was elected, but during Sandy Hook. It's the same sort of issue. That's what I find so fascinating is people...
BLANCHARD: Only gun stuff.
MARTIN: ...Criticize him for being too cool, and then, you know, when he's...
MARTIN: ...Upset about something, but I don't know.
DASH: I think the only gun stuff thing is an interesting comment because I think we all have things that are - that move us and that are powerful and that might not fit into a logical framework, right? And, I mean, I think of, like, the - whatever - the months after my son was born - I was on a plane watching some bad movie, and I just started getting choked up, you know? And it was like - it wasn't like oh, this movie is so touching that they have, you know, emotionally got me. It's like oh, now it's going to be kid stuff. Anything with fathers and sons is going to touch me in a different way. And I think there are things that people respond to - this is what I'd say more broadly - separate from any of these political leaders and what we think about them, I think there is no man in the public sphere that doesn't understand how some people think a man crying in public is bad, period - doesn't matter if you're a leader, an artist, whatever you do, an activist, anything.
MARTIN: Well, some people think women and crying in public, too, if they're leaders is bad, too. I mean, you remember...
DASH: Yes, yeah, exactly, where it's just a different - a different...
MARTIN: ...There are women candidates - people have not been pleased to see that either. So anyway - look, you know what? I cry at Sprint commercials, so I have nothing to say about this. So I guess it's a good thing I'm not president - for Kenn, anyway. So let me move on to something else that the White House had to weigh in on this, and that's that Netflix series "Making A Murderer..."
DEMBY: Oh, man.
MARTIN: It's this latest criminal justice docu-drama. It picks apart the case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was imprisoned for 18 years. Then they let him out, and then he's put back in prison for murder, which they think he might have been framed for because he was about to get some big settlement. So, you know, Gene, you've been watching this. I just wondered if you had some thoughts about this. This along with, you know, Serial, which was a very popular podcast that NPR had, you know...
MARTIN: ...NPR thing - "The Jinx" on HBO - but, you know, some people are starting to feel kind of feel a little icky about this, like this is entertainment. So how is it entertainment when some people's lives - what do you think about this?
DEMBY: Right, these are real people's lives...
DEMBY: ...And them being sort of crushed by the criminal justice system. You know, it's weird. It seems like there's a pendulum swing. So much of our popular culture when we see the criminal justice system has been really pro-prosecution for, like, a long time, right? You've got "Law & Order" - the cops are always right, the judge is always right. Everyone gets - the bad guys get convicted. I think maybe it's because there are different voices in the media conversation now, where people have more skepticism towards the way that process works. But it seems like we're having - like, Serial is sort of about, you know, the integrity of this case. Like, did this cat really do this, right? And this is - in this case - this case - and "Making A Murderer" is even more extreme because it seemed like he was framed. But as Kenn and I were talking before, just before we came in here, you know, there are so many ways that people get railroaded by the criminal justice system that don't need to be this egregious, right? I mean, if you get hit with six charges, right - I think somebody says that in "Making A Murderer" - one of the defense attorneys says, you know, you have to run the table if you get - if you go to court, right? Because if you get convicted on one of those charges, you're going to jail. So you have to decide whether you want to go to court and fight these charges or you want to take a plea deal and go to jail anyway.
MARTIN: So do you think it's a good thing that there are all of these vehicles right now to talk about this?
DEMBY: I think we should be talking about our criminal justice system. It has such consequences for so many Americans, right? And we tend to look at it - it tends to be treated with, like - with...
MARTIN: Kid gloves.
DEMBY: ...Kid gloves and, like - and looked at through the rose-colored glasses and justice and all this stuff like that. And I think over the last year, especially when we talk about Black Lives Matter and all this other stuff, we've seen - so how much - you know, how much the country's divided on these issues.
MARTIN: What do you think about it, Kenn?
BLANCHARD: I realize recently that justice is expensive. If you really want to have the justice system work for you, you can't be poor. You'll get railroaded really, really fast. You won't have the education. You want know all the rights. Nobody will have the time to talk to you and...
MARTIN: So what do you think about this as in entertainment vehicles?
BLANCHARD: I think it's always been there. I remember there were, like - it was paperback before - crime novels, the "True Detectives." And it was kind of almost pornography at one time, but it is kind of pornography now. It's so graphic, you can kind of put it there.
MARTIN: Do you watch it?
MARTIN: You don't watch it.
BLANCHARD: I had to do a crash course before I came here today...
BLANCHARD: ...Because I wanted to, like, see what you all are talking about. I was like oh, no, this is another one of those situations where the world is just starting to catch up to how our system is.
MARTIN: OK. Anil, what do you think?
DASH: Yeah, you know, I think the justice system broadly has always been entertainment. I mean, everybody who's ever said oh, I love "The Wire," I mean, a lot of what you're talking about there is the justice system and how it works and how it doesn't work. The damning thing is that usually we're watching a fictitious version. You know, when "Law & Order" says ripped from the headlines, what they mean is we're doing everything we can not to tell a real story. We're going to evoke all the emotion of a real story and not give you the real story.
DASH: For me, I think it's huge progress if what is actually engaging people is true stories and people that were actually negatively impacted by this. Like, I actually can't think of anything better for - especially, you know, those of us that are very fortunate in our lives to choose to...
DASH: ...Even if it's in the framework of entertainment...
DASH: ...To choose to listen to somebody's story of somebody on the margins...
MARTIN: I've got to leave it there for now. But Gene, I have to ask you though, you know Powerball's tonight, right?
DEMBY: Right, right.
MARTIN: I know you have a ticket.
MARTIN: What are you going to do if you win?
DEMBY: I've got to say the rap thing. I got to buy my mama a house, right? That's the first thing. And then I would give money to my local NPR member station, right? (Laughter). And then I would probably just turn up and act stupid. That would definitely happen.
MARTIN: Well, I'll call you from my private island next week because I'm going to win. That's Kenn Blanchard - Rev. Kenn Blanchard, Gene Demby and Anil Dash, thank you all so much.
DEMBY: Thank you so much.
BLANCHARD: Thank you.
DASH: Thank you.
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