LYNN NEARY, host:
I'm Lynn Neary, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. 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 free lance writer Jimi Izrael, media executive Nick Charles, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar and syndicative columnist Ruben Navarrette. So, Jimi, take it away.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Lynn. Hey fellows, what's up, welcome to the shop.
RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Hey.
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
Mr. NICK CHARLES (Media Executive): How you doing? What's up?
IZRAEL: Oh man. I've had better days because I'm afraid we're going to have to start the shop off on a sad note. A U.S. representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones died this week off a cerebral hemorrhage. You know, she was not just the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Ohio, she was also a good person. Nick, you were here. You worked at the plane dealer for a number of years and you knew Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Why don't you talk a little bit about her?
Mr. CHARLES: She was a wonderful woman, tough lady, funny lady. She was somebody who was born in Cleveland, went to school in Cleveland, went to college in Cleveland and represented greater Cleveland as a prosecutor and a judge and finally as a five term congress woman. And you know she got notoriety this year for her unfailing loyalty to the Clintons even though people criticized to switch to Obama but in Stephanie's mind, you don't do that. If you go with one horse, you stay right there. People respected her for that and I think it is a great loss for the Congress for the black caucus and also for Cleveland.
IZRAEL: A-Train, what kind of legacy do you think she leaves behind?
IFTIKHAR: I think she leaves a great one. You know one of the, I mean, I knew STJ as well and I remember once during the 2004 presidential campaign, I was sitting in her office with her and we were talking about how the Kerry campaign really hasn't reached out much to minority communities. I remember the time she got on her cell phone right then and there and she called the Kerry campaign and she said that the Kerry campaign needed to send people to Muslim events around the country and it just showed that she really was a voice for the disenfranchised. She really believed and she really enjoyed, I mean her smile just lit up the room and when I heard she had died, my heart broke.
IZRAEL: It's a sad day here in Cleveland and it's popable here and I just want to say prayers out to the friends and family of Stephanie Tubbs Jones. All right, moving forward, the veepstakes is winding down with one or both candidates expecting to reveal their choices this weekend now. A-Train, you're on record as an Obama supporter, I'm thinking Obama may need to pick a white running mate to even stand a chance. What do you say?
IFTIKHAR: I agree. I think it needs to be a white male candidate. You know that's sort of the demographic group that he is faltering in the most. I do believe that he is going to pick a dark horse. I don't think that he's - you know the safe bet would be Delaware Senator Joe Biden and then you know they talk about Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Virginia guy Tim Kaine. I think those are all smoke screens. I think that you know they're trying to keep it close to the chest. In my opinion it's going to be someone like former house minority and majority leader Dick Gephardt, who the Republicans say is the quote "one we're most afraid of" in the U.S. News and World report and so I think it's going to be a dark horse like that.
IZRAEL: Lynn Rock, now I heard rumors of governor Kathleen Sebelius out of Kansas. I think that will be an interesting choice.
NEARY: Well yes. I was just sitting here thinking I don't see why it has to be a white guy. Why does it have to be a white guy and it doesn't have to be Hillary Clinton. I know there's a lot of women out there that would like it to be Hillary Clinton but you know why can't it be a white woman?
IZRAEL: I totally agree with that. The R, get in here man.
NAVARRETTE: I think two reasons, one is to be overly cynical here, white men, are - we have learned in this campaign, are a rather delicate group, it turns out.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAVARRETTE: They feel slighted, they feel slighted, they feel left out. I keep hearing these stories and watching these stories on CNN elsewhere about you know the most overlooked demographic that could well decide this election, white male voters and so it is really an attempt I think on the part of the media and others to sort of say, hey don't forget in this year of diversity, with so much excitement around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, white males still do matter and they're still relevant. Maybe we need to sort of, it sounds horrible, but maybe Americans need the reassuring familiarity of yet another white male somewhere on that ticket.
NEARY: All right, let me just ask you this. Doesn't his campaign right now need some energizing? I think it needs some energizing.
NAVARRETTE: Oh totally.
NEARY: Is he going to be energized by Joseph Biden for instance?
NAVARRETTE: I - oh, definitely not. I agree with you on that. But I don't think that the energy comes from the second, number two on the list. I mean, it's not up to that vice presidential pick to energize this ticket. Barack Obama is struggling. There are three polls out this week, in the last couple of days, in fact, that show the race to be a dead heat, a virtual dead heat. They show that Barack Obama's support is slipping, that actually McCain is gaining on him in some respects. And so I think that that's a problem with the top of the ticket. And that's something that Obama needs to deal with on his own. I don't think the VP can help him do that. He needs to do that on his own.
Mr. CHARLES: Well, I disagree. I think the VP can help.
IZRAEL: Go ahead, Nick.
Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, I think a VP can help. I think he can reach all the way back and go to Sam Nunn if he really wants to get somebody who is bedrock and solid and respected and known. But if he really wants to go out of the box and get a white woman who I think he should get, I love Kathleen Sebelius. I think she would be a great pick. But I think the person he might get if he could think like this would be Caroline Kennedy. Why not?
NAVARRETTE: I'm hearing that women...
NEARY: Now, I wasn't going there.
NAVARRETTE: I'm hearing...
IZRAEL: I wouldn't have gone there either.
NAVARRETTE: I'm hearing that women would - particularly those people who are die-hard Hillary supporters, the people at the convention are going to be die-hard Hillary supporters. They would go nuts, crazy, angry if Obama chose a woman other than Hillary. And they would almost see it as an insult, you know. So this token attempt to sort of placate me, how dare you. And so in a weird way it ends up backfiring on them because they said, if you want a woman, I've got your woman right here, pal.
IZRAEL: What about McCain? On his short list I'm reading Joe Lieberman and also his senior aide and former Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge. Holy crap. Both of those just send shivers down my spine.
NAVARRETTE: Excuse me?
IZRAEL: I don't like either one of those choices.
Mr. CHARLES: Those guys are scary.
NAVARRETTE: Gee, one of them's a Democrat. What more do you want, Jimi? Gee, I mean...
IFTIKHAR: I would love...
IZRAEL: I mean Lieberman. I wish, I wish Lieberman would pick a side, you know, and just...
Mr. CHARLES: Lieberman has picked a side. And his side is bomb everybody. So Lieberman has picked a side.
IFTIKHAR: And if you think - and I would love...
IFTIKHAR: I would love it if he picked Lieberman because that would assure an Obama victory. And so I think that would be great.
IZRAEL: And ladies and gentlemen, lest we forget, A-Train is on the record as an Obama supporter. Go ahead, R. Go ahead.
NAVARRETTE: If he chooses, if he chooses Lieberman, OK, first of all it sends out this message that he's definitely throwing a long ball, he's definitely doing something to mix things up. He's going to run afoul of a lot of core conservatives who say, basically, you're handing the presidency over to a reformed Democrat, now an independent, who they think is too far to the left for them. But beyond that, he's also going to make a serious play for Jewish voters. Jewish voters who turned out for Joe Lieberman in 2000 would now turn out again, and it would make it very difficult, I think, for Obama to keep some of those Jewish voters in the fold. Face it, some of those Jewish voters already have concerns about Obama dating back to his perspective on Iraq and the war on terror. I think this could be problematic for Obama if Lieberman's the nominee for the vice presidential nod for the GOP.
IZRAEL: OK, everybody. On a lighter note, America is not doing as well as we thought they'd do in the Olympics this time out, with China taking the most golds so far and track and field runners literally dropping the baton. But Jamaica's Usain Bolt representing. Hey, Lynn, we got some tape on that right?
NEARY: We've got some tape. Let's play that tape.
Mr. USAIN BOLT (Sprinter, Jamaican Olympic Team): This world record means a lot to me because I've been dreaming of this since I was like yea high. So it means a lot more to me than actually the 100 meters.
IZRAEL: (In Jamaican Accent) Wow, man, he's doing a big thing, you know. Nick, get it.
Mr. CHARLES: Well, you know, I think there's two Olympics. The first Olympics are the G8 sports like swimming and gymnastics which happen in the first week, and Americans did represent, particularly Michael Phelps. But then the second part which is the, you know, the part that a lot of folks, which is much more democratic, where all the countries can involve themselves are the track and field. And particularly in the events that the Americans usually dominate, the sprints, the women's and the men's sprints, they have not dominated. It has been left to Jamaica to come and win the 100 and 200 by Usain Bolt breaking both records.
No one has ever done that. Even Carl Lewis only won it in '84, the 100 and 200, but he didn't break world records. Michael Johnson broke the world record in 200 in '96, but he didn't win the 100, he ran the 400. So here you have a guy and a country, small 2.8 million people, who are just taking over the track and field, particularly the sprints. And when I say the sprints, the 100 and the 200, because Americans are still strong on the 400. But the irony is a lot of these athletes get their training in the United States. And then they go back home, you know, and they practice a little more, and they come out in the Olympics and they're taking everything this time. And I think it also points up that the Americans have been hit very hard, particularly in track and field, by the doping standards of the last five or six years.
You think of the two biggest stars in track and field of the last three years in the United States, Marion Jones who is still doing time. And Justin Gatland who is still banned. So if these folks are suspect and have been caught in the doping net, we have to now wonder, well, where are the rest of the American sprinters who have not been caught? And maybe it was a fact that, you know, a lot of the people were on the juice, or maybe just we have to keep waiting for someone to show up.
NEARY: Sounds scary to think that that's - I mean, it's kind of sad to think that that may be why. I hadn't really thought about that. So I'm just trying to absorb it at the moment that maybe that's why the Americans aren't doing so well this time.
Mr. CHARLES: Well, you know, it's really - it's funny. People are really - you know, people are - if you think about track and field in total is that everybody every time somebody breaks a record, everybody is suspect. But Usain Bolt has been, you know, he has to pee in a cup every five minutes.
Mr. CHARLES: So, the question is, OK, if he's clean, if he's clean, and Asafa Powell from Jamaica is clean, and all the women who are winning, Veronica Campbell-Brown etcetera, are winning, the Americans now, where are their representatives? I think Tyson Gay is a really good athlete. I think he was burdened by a bad hamstring. And he's a really good guy. But he didn't represent this time.
IZRAEL: The R.
NAVARRETTE: What about the possibility that, you know, given the race that I saw, that Jamaican runner is just so much better. You know, Bolt is just so much better. Not taking anything away from the other Americans who ran that race. You know, if you happen to have a young then Cassius Clay on your boxing team, before he became Mohammed Ali, you make it seem like every other country in the world doesn't have a boxing program. They do have a boxing program and they do have boxers, it's just that you have the best boxer.
IFTIKHAR: And I agree with Ruben. I think it's about complete and sheer dominance. I mean, both Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are just in my opinion completely redunculous. I mean, you know, I agree with Ruben for the 200 meter dash, you know, Usain Bolt, for the last 50 meters he could have turned around and done the Macarena across the finish line and he still would have...
NAVARRETTE: Yeah, it's crazy.
IFTIKHAR: I mean, it was just redunculous.
NEARY: Speaking of doing the Macarena across the finish line, he has been criticized at least by one Olympics official for being a little bit too cavalier, I guess, as he crossed the finish line, you know, in the first race.
Mr. CHARLES: That was an American official.
IZRAEL: Yeah, of course.
Mr. CHARLES: That's an American official. And the guy, you know, he - if you run 100 meters and you look around at 80 and there's nobody, you won that race. And he thumped his chest and still ran a 9:69 and broke the record by, you know, by 0.3. So my thing about it? He deserves it.
NEARY: And he's having a good time.
IZRAEL: He deserves to brush his shoulders off.
Mr. CHARLES: And he's 21 - he was 21, he's 22 years old.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, he's 22 years - 22.
Mr. CHARLES: What are you supposed to do at 22 years old but to celebrate when you win?
NAVARRETTE: What Arsalan was talking about in terms of somebody else dominating the sport, now we finally know how the other countries feel about having to go up in basketball against the dream teams.
NEARY: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR news and I'm talking with Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Ruben Navarrette in the Barbershop. So, back to you now, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Lynn. Yo, check this out. Strangely enough, Percy Miller, AKA Master P is putting together his own cable network to promote wholesome black TV. Now for those of you that don't remember Master P, he brought us such American classics as "Uhhhh, Na, Na, Na, Na." And also the classic underground album, "The Ghetto is Trying to Kill Me." Yo, we've got some tape around here right?
NEARY: We got some tape.
IFTIKHAR: Drop it.
IZRAEL: Lynn, I noticed it was a lot to ask you to bring your CD out from your car, but we have to say, go ahead and pop that in.
NEARY: I'm going to be hearing Master P for the first time. Oh, Mister P.
IFTIKHAR: Master. Master P.
NEARY: Master P.
IZRAEL: Master P.
NEARY: Sorry, Master P for the first time.
(Soundbite of song "Make 'Em Say Uhhhh")
Mr. PERCY MILLER (Rapper): (Singing) Make 'em say Uhhhh, Uhhhh, Na-na-na-na, Na-na-na-na. I'm the colonel of this platinum tank (unintelligible).
IZRAEL: Uhhh, I love that record. Thank you so much, Lynn. That record predates...
NAVARRETTE: Sounds like my car in need of a tune-up.
IZRAEL: That record predates crunk as the premier club music of the later '90s. Now he's trying to come back, I guess, now that his kids are a little older. You know, he's feeling the pressure of being a father. He wants to do something wholesome for the black community and put together this black cable network. Now we also know that Robert Townsend tried this sometime ago with the black family television network, and he failed miserably, that that folded in 2007. Nick, here's my question, and I don't know if you can answer this. What does black wholesome television even look like? I don't get that.
Mr. CHARLES: I'll settle for better TV, period. Forget better black television. But you know, I think there is a vacuum. I think there is a sense that, you know, even though TV ONE is (unintelligible). And even though the black family channel failed with Robert Townsend, there still is a vacuum because BT has not fulfilled its mandate as the cable channel of black America. And so Master P is saying that he wants a better black television. I don't think it's just wholesome because, you know, the niche market is growing, and people are saying, hey, wait a minute, maybe I can get in here and do something. And you know, Master P is an entrepreneur, if nothing else.
IZRAEL: Yeah, I think what it is, is that he recognizes that the public is done with that whole gangster rap, kill, kill, narrative. It's not selling the way it used to. The R, get in here, man. We know you're a big Master P fan.
NAVARRETTE: Oh, you bet, absolutely.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAVARRETTE: You guys, every time we talk about this stuff, first you send me scrambling for my rap dictionary so I can understand the lingo. Secondly, you all make me feel so old. I come in here and all of a sudden I'm George Will, OK. It's not right. It's not right. But I think both in black entertainment television genre and in, you know, in the Latino equivalent of the univision genre, the same sort of criticism, these are very financially successful properties that have as many critics out there in their respective communities, OK, within the familia, within the family, as they do supporters.
And I guess the smartest thing you could do is listen to the market, be responsive to the market, make the changes they want you to make, and you'll find that you open up a door and there's all this other money over here, there's all this other viewers out there who have tuned you out previously who are now willing to come back to you. So, yeah, I'm all for that. I think it's - we constantly need to do that. And like I said, the first step is finding out what they want. But I do sense a lot of discontent out there whenever I'm before African-American groups, whenever I talk to other folks about some of their entertainment offerings, let's say, put it that way.
Mr. CHARLES: Thanks a lot, Ruben.
IZRAEL: Well, you know, I...
NAVARRETTE: That was - Nick, that was as diplomatic as I could get, brother.
Mr. CHARLES: I know. Thanks for being kind, brother.
IZRAEL: And I guess I should do my due diligence and say that I am contracted to TVONE.com so - but that doesn't have anything to do with my criticisms. You know, my whole thing is, Master P, do your thing, man. If you think you can do it better than others who have failed, my man, na, na, na, na. And with that that's a wrap ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you so much for coming to the barbershop. And I got to kick it over to the lady of the house sitting in for the lady of the house, Lynn Neary.
NEARY: Great to talk with all you guys. And so we've been listening to Jimi Izrael, a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette, who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Nick Charles is the vice president of digital content at BET.com. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a contributing editor for Islamica Magazine and a civil rights attorney, and he joined us here in our Washington studio. Always good to talk with you guys.
Mr. CHARLES: Thanks, Lynn.
NAVARRETTE: Take care.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
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