Roundtable: Obama Reaches Out To Muslim World President Obama granted his first sit-down interview to an Arab TV network, telling the Muslim world that "Americans are not your enemy." Can he succeed in the Middle East where other presidents have failed? Tony Cox guides today's bloggers' roundtable.
NPR logo

Roundtable: Obama Reaches Out To Muslim World

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Roundtable: Obama Reaches Out To Muslim World

Roundtable: Obama Reaches Out To Muslim World

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

TONY COX, host:

Now, on to our Bloggers' Roundtable. More on the controversy over Michelle Obama's inaugural wardrobe. Plus, President Barack Obama sits down with an Arab TV network. And, Senator Oprah? With us, Brandon Whitney of the blog Homeland Colors. He also writes about politics for the Web sites Black Men in America and My Voice, D.C. Felicia Harvey, editor of Black Politics on the Web and former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross, he blogs over at Three Brothers and a Sister and hosts "The Kevin Ross Show" on BlogTalk Radio. Hello, everybody.

Mr. KEVIN ROSS (Blogger, Three Brothers and a Sister): Hello there, Tony.

Ms. FELICIA HARVEY (Blogger, Black Politics on the Web): Hello.

Mr. BRANDON WHITNEY (Blogger, Homeland Colors): How are you doing?

COX: I'm fine. Let's talk about Michelle just a little bit more, because I'd like to get some thoughts from you that you're in the room with me, Kevin and those of you and the other bloggers who we have on the air today. The dress she wore, as we all know, was designed by an Asian-American. Kevin, is this much to do about nothing really, or is there something to this?

Mr. ROSS: Oh no, this is a huge issue. And what became very clear to me over the last 48 hours was that what these black designers really are saying is that, we didn't like what you had on. And the last thing that we want to see is this black woman - we want to see your hair done or your head did, and like at the DNC when we saw Michelle Obama's hair. That hair was flawless. It look great and the color that she picked. These black designers are saying, we are not impressed with Jason Wu. We are not necessarily impressed with Isabel Toledo. Because if you look at someone like a Halle Berry, no one has ever said, why doesn't Halle Berry wear black designers? Because people look at her and say, she's flawless. When she won for the Academy Award for Best Actress, no one - that wasn't an issue. Black designers aren't happy with how Michelle looked, and they're saying, well heck, if you're going to let anyone design you, let us, because, sister, we got your back and we will have you looking incredible. That's what this issue is.

COX: Yeah, but Felicia, I mean, is the woman going to have to put up with this every time she walks out of the White House with something on?

Ms. HARVEY: Absolutely. For the next four years, we're going to hear criticism about her hair, about her clothes, all manner of insignificant things, we're going to hear it. And to address the initial issue, I don't think it was really about the fact that they didn't like the way she was dressed. I think they were thinking, OK, we got a black first family, it's our time to shine, too. We want to be one of those seven designers. So to answer your earlier question, I do think it's much to do about nothing. She's not going to roam naked for the next four years. So there will be plenty of opportunities for her to showcase difference designers.

Mr. ROSS :I'm surprised the Felicia would say that. Because if anything, if you look to some of the comments, I went to Michelle Obama Watch online, 150 comments. And most of them are black women. I thought she looked incredible. But when I started reading what other black women were saying, they were like, that look like a Chanel bedspread.

Ms. HARVEY: No doubt, I agree.

Mr. ROSS: And so that's when I started going, you know what, black women are like, look, you are representing us, we want you to look, quote-unquote, fierce, and we didn't see it.

Ms. HARVEY: You're correct. You're correct.

COX: So that's what they're complaining about.

Mr. ROSS: So give us black folks a chance to show what we can do.

COX: Jump in here, Brandon.

Mr. WHITNEY: Yeah, I don't really think it had anything to do with the dress, to be honest with you. I mean, she wasn't saying, I wish Michelle had worn a black dress because I didn't like the dress she was wearing. I think it had more to do with this kind of tribalism that's developed in our own community. Because we have an African-American president, we're expecting to get all these hook-ups. And that's not the case. We didn't elect them by ourselves. There are 40 million black people, all of us can't vote. We are not of age to vote. Everybody in the country elected him. He's the country's president. He's the president of the United States.

Mr. ROSS: But we can say that about…

Mr. WHITNEY: We cannot expect them to do - to take every little thing. And for the - to be honest with you, the fact that Barack Obama, if he'd been born 200 years ago, wouldn't be able to be anywhere near the White House unless he was cleaning it up. And we have to focus on a dress?

Mr. ROSS: But here's the bigger issue.

COX: All right, let me stop you there, because I can see this is a hot topic, and I know it's burning up the blogosphere.

Mr. ROSS: We haven't even touched the surface.

Ms. HARVEY: Not even.

COX: And we've been talking about it actually all week on News & Notes. But I don't want to spend the entire time on that, because there is something else that it's also important that I'd like to get your views on as bloggers. And it has to do with this. The president went on Arabic cable television this week and spoke to the Muslim world. He said that he will show - he will work to show the Muslims that Americans are not their enemy. Here's what he said.

(Soundbite from Arabic cable television)

President BARACK OBAMA: If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.

COX: Now, President Obama also said that now is the time to broker lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let's hear him again.

(Soundbite from Arabic television)

President OBAMA: The bottom line in all these talks, in all these conversations is, is the child in the Palestinian territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security?

COX: All right, so Kevin, here's what I wanted to come to on this. This isn't as big a topic in the blogosphere or in black communities as Michelle Obama's clothes. Why is that?

Mr. ROSS: Because this is about jobs and an economy and people are scared. And lets face it, at the end of the day, as much as we're looking at what's going on with the Palestinians and the Israelis, we've got folks who are saying, I don't have a job. You've got individuals - these black individuals who are the designers, these are small business owners. These are folks who are saying, look, I've got staff, I've got employees, I've got overhead brick and mortar. And if we're looking at money, and we can see how by Sasha and Malia wearing J Crew, J Crew's Web site crashes, then that's saying that J Crew is making money off of them. When you look at these designers, has an African-American designed any first lady's dress? Have they - did they design Laura Bush, or Mama Bush, or Jackie O? So they're saying in this whole line, why would that be any different than let's say someone looking at, in Los Angeles for instance there are 46 talk show hosts.

COX: Yeah but...

Judge ROSS: And now one of them in the Los Angeles area are native American, Asian, Latino or black. So, this is really about where - how do people of color get opportunities...

COX: But on the other...

Judge ROSS: The person who designed a dress was a person of color.

COX: On the other hand.

Judge ROSS: Whether he is an Asian-American.

COX: Brandon, on the other hand.

Mr. WHITNEY: Have we ever had an African-American design...

COX: On the other hand, Brandon.

Mr. WHITNEY: The first lady's dress?

COX: I want to bring you into this because this is issue of the Middle East definitely impacts people in black American because they are going to Iraq. They're going to Afghanistan. They're going to Pakistan. They're losing their lives. So, whether or not the president is able to establish a new relationship in the Muslim world is certainly something that is worthy of our attention. Is it not Brandon?

Mr. WHITNEY: It definitely is way more important. I think Obama right now if you listen to the interview and you listen to the words he says in the way he communicates to the Middle East and the Muslim world. He's working on being the best foreign policy president ever. And we're focused on addressing African-American community because sometimes, we can be completely meiotic and we only think about how everything affects us directly. Not remembering or - yeah not remembering basically that thousands of people were killed in Gaza. So, while we're focused on a dress that Michelle Obama wore, which should have been a very happy they save for these people who are focused on minutia, people are dying in the Middle East. People who could be crash in planes into buildings or who could be our friends. These are the choices they have. And Barack is trying to make sure they are friends and we're focused on a dress.

COX: Well...

Mr. WHITNEY: I think that says a lot about the quality of understanding that we have sometimes of the world as a people.

COX: Felicia, what do you say?

Ms. HARVEY: I would say that everything we're discussing in terms of our focus on Michelle's dress and a lot of the other issues that are kind of fluff, just shows why his overtures were so significant because most people are thinking, not necessarily about her dress but about the fact that they don't have a job or they're worried about losing their job or all the different economic issues that are going on. So, for him to basically extend a hand and kind of show that winds have changed and Washington have arrived that makes it very significant. I do think that at times, we tend to focus on things that aren't as important like Michelle's dress or whether Barack is black or biracial, multiracial (unintelligible) or whatever. We don't tend to kind of lose sight of those more important issues that are out there.

COX: Do you think Kevin that this is going to make a change, the way that Barack Obama initially reached out to the Muslim world?

Mr. ROSS: Absolutely and I think the reason that we're all looking to Barack and Michelle because they do get a set - they are a matching set. It's not an either or. It's not as if Barack can't try to broke or some sort of calm in the Middle East. And Michelle Obama can't be cognizant of the fact that we are talking about individuals who are at the precipice of losing everything. And I beg to differ, if you are someone in the fashion industry and you know the millions and millions of dollars in jobs and revenues that are behind these industries, Barack - as we speak people are knocking off Michelle Obama's dress. And they are using it to make money to stimulate this economy. The number one issue in this country right now is jobs. It is not the issue between the Palestinians and Israelis if you ask the average person. And so when you say, well this is fluff. If you are designer and you're saying, I'm trying to stimulate this economy, Barack, Michelle's dress becomes a big deal.

COX: All right, let's talk about something else that might be considered fluff. In fact, I will go so far as to say that it is fluff but we talk about fluff on this show also.

Mr. WHITNEY: No, not here.

COX: Yes, we do on occasion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HARVEY: Never.

COX: This is (laughing) Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has said publicly several times that he considered appointing Oprah Winfrey to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the president. And apparently, he wasn't joking.

(Soundbite of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's interview)

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): It is true that among the many potential candidates for the Senate seat, we discussed Oprah. And my thought it was an idea that a friend brought to me. My thought was an African-American woman who'd probably by herself has more influence than 100 senators. She was instrumental in electing Barack Obama president. She clearly could use her bully pulpit to do good things for people. The question was whether or not there was any chance at all she'd be willing to do it. And then if so, how do you reach out to her? Would she take the call of the governor of Illinois for example because Oprah is Oprah and I'm just a governor of Illinois?

COX: So, we've found from Oprah whether she would have taken that call. And here's what she told her friend Gayle.

(Soundbite of Oprah Winfrey's interview)

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (TV Host, "The Oprah Winfrey Show"): If I had been watching as I know I was out watch from the treadmill.


Ms. WINFREY: I would have probably fallen off the treadmill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WINFREY: I'm pretty amused by the whole thing. Where would I sit it in with my day job, my midday job, my night job, my radio job, my magazine job.

Ms. KING: Yes, you have 15 jobs, man, you have 15 jobs.

Ms. WINFREY: Yeah, I think I could be a senator too. I'm just not interested.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Oprah Winfrey. We have about a minute left. So we don't have enough time for everybody to weigh in fully on this. But I guess for Oprah, Felicia to take that job it would be a step down.

Ms. HARVEY: Amen. It absolutely and the governor is a fool. I think he's pretty much all about the show. I couldn't even say if he honestly was considering her. If he just wanted a sound bite in the newspapers and on television and…

Judge ROSS: Felicia, I beg to differ. That governor is brilliant. He knew exactly was he was doing. He is no dummy. And the fact of the matter is why would Oprah want to be one of a 100. I can see her being the governor and taking his job. But in terms of why he's even mentioning Oprah, he knows exactly what he's doing. And I say, you know what? It'd be interesting to see how this thing plays out.

COX: It would be...

Mr. WHITNEY: I don't think his brilliant. I think he's desperate. And you know you do anything if you're desperate and all.

COX: Oh, he might be both.

Mr. WHITNEY: I don't think it's an either or.

COX: He's both brilliant and desperate.

Ms. HARVEY: There's a fine line between genius and insanity.

COX: All right, our time has run out. We have hit some very serious and some fluff subjects today. But it's been good as always. Thank you everybody.

Mr. WHITNEY: Thank you, Tony.

Ms. HARVEY: Thank you.

COX: We've been talking with Brandon Whitney of the blog "Homeland Colors." He also writes about politics for the Web sites "Black Men in America" and "My Voice D.C." He joined us from our headquarters in Washington. Felicia Harvey, editor of black politics on the Web. She was at member station WUSF in Tampa, Florida and former Los Angeles superior court Judge Kevin Ross who blogs at "Three Brothers and a Sister" He was with me right here in our NPR West studios. Now, you can find links to their blogs and to ours at And the conversation doesn't stop there. Our online series, Speak your Mind gives you a chance to sound off on the issues that you care about. To find out how, go to our blog and click on Speak your Mind.

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.