'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, August 10th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
August 10, 2013
Guests: Farai Chideya, Miriam Elder, Amy Goodman, David Folkenflik, Jelani
Cobb, Jeff Nilsson, Michael Baroody, John Tartaglia, Claire Alexander, Nina
Khrushcheva, Julia Ioffe, Cyd Zeigler
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: This morning, my question. What would you buy
if you had a spare $250 million? Plus, we go back 50 years to revisit the
march on Washington. And the artistic way Newtown, Connecticut, is moving
But first, Obama versus Putin. Clash of the titans.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Is it just me or is it feeling a
little Cold War in here?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we saw more rhetoric
on the Russian side that was anti-American that played into some of the old
stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and
Russia. And I`ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to
backwards on those issues, with mixed success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama yesterday during a press conference
at the White House, capping off a week where the news has been all about
U.S./Russian relations. On Wednesday, the president announced that he
would skip a planned one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir
Putin. That was scheduled for next month. But the White House said that
there has not been enough progress on major issues like nuclear arms and
human rights to make a presidential meeting worthwhile. They also cited
Russia`s decision to give asylum to NSA leaker, Edward Snowden. The
meeting was supposed to take place in Moscow before the G-20 economic
summit in St. Petersburg. And President Obama says he`ll still attend the
summit, rebuffing calls by Senator Lindsey Graham to go a step further and
boycott the G-20 entirely. And for good measure, the 2014 winter Olympics
in Sochi, Russia as well. Senator Graham is a lonely voice calling for a
total boycott of the games, but there are increasing calls from gay rights
advocates to move the Olympics out of Russia, unless the country reverses
course on a new law criminalizing the promotion of quote/unquote,
"nontraditional sexuality." I mean, seriously? I`m like about ready to
get up under my desk and curl up for an air raid drill. Who knew Mitt
Romney was kind of right about Russia?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: This is, without question,
our number one geopolitical foe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, we all laughed at Romney at the time. He seemed so
out of touch, trapped in a long outdated Cold War mentality. But Russia
does still look pretty threatening. Now, not in a we will bring nuclear
annihilation kind of way, but rather, we`re still totalitarian, we don`t
particularly like you, and we`re strategically positioned kind of way.
They have our NSA leaker. They have our Super Bowl ring, and they have
veto power on the U.N. Security Council, and they don`t plan to give up any
So what happened? Weren`t we just resetting U.S./Russia relations?
President Obama and Dmitry Medvedev were buddies. They conducted joint
antiterrorism missions and released joint statements on Iran`s nuclear
program, and signed a new agreement to cut back on long-range nuclear
weapons. The State Department even made a literal reset button to present
to the Russian foreign minister. Remember that? Now, of course, the
minister had to tell then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that her staff
had mistranslated "reset," instead using the Russian word for "overcharge."
But still, still, still, look how friendly it all seemed. Things have been
downhill ever since March 2012, when Putin stepped back into the Russian
presidency. The relationship between the Obama White House and the Putin
Kremlin have been tense, to say the least. President Obama made that clear
in his press conference yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our decision to not participate in the summit was not simply around
Mr. Snowden. It had to do with the fact that, frankly, on a whole range of
issues where we think we can make some progress, Russia has not moved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So Russia has not moved on a slew of important issues.
There`s Syria. Putin has dug his heels in his support of Syrian leader,
Bashar al Assad, in that country`s civil war, which started when Assad
violently responded to protests and civil unrest inspired by the Arab
There`s the nukes question. Talks on reducing both countries` nuclear arm
stockpiles have come to a standstill, according to administration
officials. And the Kremlin has stopped responding to offers on arms
controls by U.S. diplomats. The administration says that at this point,
it`s not worth having the two presidents sit down together.
It seems clear, we may no longer be in the Cold War, but it is not exactly
a warm hug either. Joining me now, Julia Ioffe, a senior editor at "The
New Republic," who spent three years reporting from Russia. Jelani Cobb,
associate professor of Africana studies at the University of Connecticut.
In 2010, he was a Fulbright teaching fellow at Moscow University. Miriam
Elder, foreign and national security editor at Buzzfeed. She used to be
the news bureau chief in Moscow. And Dr. Nina Khrushcheva. She is the
associate professor in the graduate program for international affairs at
the New School, and senior fellow in the World Policy Institute. She`s
also the great granddaughter of former Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev.
So nice to have you all here.
So lots of conversation this week about this chilly relationship between
President Putin and President Obama. But why should we care? I`m sure
there are chilly relationships between world leaders around the world. Why
is this one important?
JULIA IOFFE, SR. EDITOR, NEW REPUBLIC: I think it`s important, well, it`s
come to our attention, because of the whole Edward Snowden manhunt, but I
think, otherwise, we wouldn`t really be talking about a reset of a reset
with a former Cold War power. If anything, this is a recalibration of a
relationship that was set during the Cold War, and it`s been over 20 years
since, and things have to recalibrate. Russia and the U.S. don`t run the
world anymore like they used to, and Russia is kind of falling further and
further behind on the global station.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jelani, you`re nodding to that.
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR: I think one of the things that`s
interesting is the dynamic here. And people have talked about Vladimir
Putin`s positioning as a strongman, how people see him and so on, but I
think he`s also probably responding to the dynamics internal within Russia,
which has a very strong sense of their declining power in the world. I
think that`s been like a lens through which lots of things that happened
there, at least projecting strength, and reminding people of a time in
which the country was at least respected, and if not respected, then
HARRIS-PERRY: This idea of a declining Russia does seem to be at odds with
the kind of geopolitical realities, particularly related to Syria and Iran,
that we currently see.
DR. NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, NEW SCHOOL: Well, actually, it is not. Because
Russia is a declining power and it has just a few levers of influence that
it has. Syria is one of them. The near abroad, what used to be former
Soviet states, is another. But these are very few little things that Putin
has power over, so he overstates that power. He really tries to push --
pull out as much as he can out of what little that he has, and he does a
good job. Because I completely agree with you, he also speaks to his own
constituents, and 140 million Russians in the population of Russia, but
also a lot of Russians in the near abroad, who want Russia to be back on
the world stage. Kind of you often hear in Moscow, (inaudible), we used to
be killed (inaudible), but our parades were great. And that`s how a lot of
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is interesting to me, given that this week was
really dominated by kind of Russia/U.S. conversation, that did feel Cold
War in some important ways, and it did remind me of Mitt Romney saying in
the debate, this is our primary concern, this is our main issue, and
really, it sort of evoked a sense of, what, you know, what decade are you
living in, Mr. Romney? And yet this week seemed to reinforce the idea that
Russia is strategically, critically important.
MIRIAM ELDER, BUZZFEED: It`s critically important, in part largely because
of the Security Council veto. The U.S. really can`t do anything on Syria
through the U.N. without some sort of Russian agreement. And I think
there`s an understanding of that. But Russia`s role right now is basically
like the great disrupter. The way of just making sure that the West and
the U.S. in particular doesn`t do what it really wants to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because if we went back even farther than the most recent
election and sort of debate moment of Mr. Romney, if we went back to
President Obama when he was running for the presidency in 2008, he was a
big fan of bilateral talks. This is part of what he said would be part of
the Obama doctrine, a different way of doing foreign policy. But I want to
listen quickly to Condi Rice, obviously from the last administration, and
what she said about the bilateral talks here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATEs: The president is absolutely
right not to go to Moscow for bilateral conversation with Putin at this
time. There`s nothing to talk about. And the slap in the face to the
United States of America of giving asylum to Edward Snowden -- the
president absolutely cannot go to a bilateral conversation with Vladimir
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So there`s always a little moment for me when Condi Rice and
President Obama are on the same policy page that always makes me want to
pause and say, let`s talk about that. Do you agree? This was the right
thing, not to go to bilateral talks?
IOFFE: Absolutely. I think, you know, the reset was great. They got as
much out of it as they could. They got the START treaty, they got the
transit route to Afghanistan through Russia, but then, things started to
kind of go sour around the time of Libya. The Russians felt duped. They
had abstained from vetoing at the Security Council. They couldn`t vote in
favor of it, but they abstained and felt the U.S. did a lot more than they
said they were going to do. On their watch, Gadhafi was killed. This
really bothered Putin. Then Mike McFall, who is from Obama`s inner circle,
arrived in Moscow as his ambassador, was harassed for months on the ground,
in a very unprofessional, very kind of, this is not what states do to each
other. And it went on from there. Syria was a major irritant.
And what you heard from the White House during this period was like, look,
if you guys don`t want to talk, there`s lots of stuff going on in the
world, there`s the Middle East, there`s China. If you`re not going to
cooperate, we`re just going to allot less and less time for you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We do have other things to do. The body language thing came
up with the president this week - when he talked about sort of the idea of
- well, actually, let`s listen very quickly to what the president said, and
then I want to ask you about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I know the press likes to focus on body language and he`s got that
kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that. Sometimes he goes a little offscript and it`s
very enjoyable to watch. But I did think, is there -- sometimes when I
watch President Putin and Obama, it does feel like there is almost like a
manning up thing that`s happening, and these two declining superpowers are
in part saying, you want to talk, oh, I`m not going to talk, oh, yeah? I`m
just going to -- Is that part of what`s happening here for President Putin,
that because he`s positioning for his people, that pulling out of the talks
also allows him not to do the slouching routine?
COBB: I think that`s true, and I also think that Julia`s absolutely right.
When there`s going to be these talks, we all know that 95 percent of this
stuff is worked out beforehand anyway. So it`s mostly show. So there`s no
backstory, nothing that`s been worked out. So they don`t want to go there
and actually have something that looks the like too much of the truth.
But one thing I wanted to add, too, about the idea of the reset, even when
there was the reset, even when this was kind of the prevailing notion that
the administration was operating under, there were these kind of
microconcerns, the kind of stress fractures that you saw. One of which I
saw personally in 2010, which was the May 9th celebrations there, which are
huge. Huge, much bigger than the Fourth of July here, and it`s the
recognition of the end of World War II in Europe and this kind of
existential threat that nearly ended Russia, 26 million fatalities there.
Every head of state for a government that participated in World War II was
there, except Barack Obama. And people took that as a real snub. And
Angela Merkel was there, and had to be the most uncomfortable --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That wasn`t a friendly moment for her.
COBB: That was not a friendly moment for her. And she was there and Obama
wasn`t, and people did take that as a sleight.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s a reminder of how critical World War II was, and what
was then the Soviet Union, the losses that the Soviets experienced at that
moment. Stay with us. When we come back, I do want to talk a little bit
more about the Edward Snowden question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don`t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot. Mr. Snowden has been
charged with three felonies. If, in fact, he believes that what he did was
right, then like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before
the court, with a lawyer, and make his case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So if there was any confusion before, we now
know that President Obama isn`t a fan of NSA leaker, Edward Snowden. And
he`s especially not a fan of Russia`s decision last week to grant Snowden
temporary asylum, shielding him from charges of espionage and theft for
leaking details of the NSA`s surveillance program. How much was Snowden
the final straw in this deteriorating relationship?
ELDER: I think he totally was the final straw. We`ve had a relationship
that`s been deteriorating for probably two years now, probably even before
that, and I think it was the final sign of how bad the relationship has
gotten, that it was so easy for Russia to be like, OK, Edward, come hang
out with us for a little while.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it really so easy? And folks on this who watch this show
know that I`ve gotten in trouble for some of my critiques of Edward
Snowden, although not critiques of what he released. In other words, I
think the releasing is one thing. I think the seeking asylum is something
separate. But if the roles were reversed, would we have returned an asylum
KHRUSHCHEVA: We would never have. And there were instances when Viktor
But, who is called the lord of war, even a movie was made with Nicolas Cage
on that story, who allegedly, or now not allegedly, because he was
convicted for that in New York City, sold arms to all around the world.
And Russians begged to return him and said we`ll deal with him on our own
and what not, and the United States didn`t. So in some ways, the way
Russians feel about it, the way Putin feels about it, he has the right to
behave the way he`s behaved. Because he feels like the United States, it
takes two to tango, and he feels that both of them are guilty of this kind
of posturing that you brought up slightly earlier. If we even look at
pictures that Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are sitting together, Putin
is sitting like a mensch (ph).
KHRUSHCHEVA: He makes up for the fact that he`s probably 20 centimeters
shorter than --
HARRIS-PERRY: There is Putin right there. Look how manly he is!
KHRUSHCHEVA: He does. It`s slightly outdated idea of friendliness - I
mean, of manliness to sit like this, but nonetheless, he does have this --
and so for him, it`s give or take. That`s what they used to call in the
Cold War, zero-sum mentality. So he feels completely justified in doing
whatever he`s doing.
HARRIS-PERRY: I like this, you taking us back to this notion of the zero-
sum mentality. Because it is the thing that challenges sort of the Obama
doctrine on the capacity, in other bilateral or multilateral talks to talk
things out. Are we in a zero sum place in this relationship with Russia?
Particularly around Edward Snowden.
IOFFE: Well, some things that aren`t very flashy and aren`t very sexy,
like the transit of materiel to Afghanistan, we can talk about quietly.
But the kind of sexier topics like Syria and Snowden, I mean, when you talk
about a zero sum mentality, it`s not just Putin. It`s something that
permeates to every level of Russian society, to Russian business, to the
way Russians deal with each other. It`s not a very trusting society. It`s
a very cynical society. Like, people -- Russians, especially, much like
Americans, project their own world view and their own approach to life onto
Americans. So they think it`s also a zero sum gain for us and it`s also
just about money for us or it`s also just about humiliating Russia for us.
They don`t understand that Americans really are kind of idealistic. They
think it`s ridiculous. They don`t understand --
COBB: And even, when I was there, one of the things people talked to me,
why are you Americans always smiling? Why do you smile so much?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, what are you happy about?
COBB: It was actually taken -- a friend of mine said, we take that to be
false. We take that to be a sign of duplicity, because no one`s that
happy. And so, but I do think, again, on the issue of it being zero sum, I
think there are some things that, in some ways, it is, and in some ways I
think there are questions that are more complicated, especially around
Afghanistan, where they did have the cooperation, but at the same time,
there was this resentment that the U.S. policy, the U.S. war in Afghanistan
had enabled, as a secondary effect, had enabled heroin transmission into
Moscow, which is a significant problem there. So it was like, OK, well,
people are going along with the U.S. and this issue of Afghanistan, but
what is the U.S. really doing about opium trends.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ll stay on this. Everyone, stick with me, we`ll talk a
little bit more about the trust factor when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to let you see some of my favorite footage. This
is from the moment that we think of as the great kitchen debate. This is
July of 1959, and it`s Nixon and Khrushchev, and they actually have a
debate, if you will remember this, about sort of consumerism and consumer
products and sort of who has it better, in part because of who has the
better kitchen. This is all pre-HDTV. I want to bring this up, because
we`ve talked about kind of the global aspect and the question of political
positioning, but there`s also an economic question here. Russia has the
largest economy in Europe. It is booming relative to our stagnant economy.
Is that part of the -- only relative to our stagnant economy, is that part
of the swagger here? Do we need them economically?
IOFFE: If you look at the list of American trading partners, Russia clocks
in at 20.
HARRIS-PERRY: But is that precisely the problem? Like, do we want them
higher? There`s a growing middle class there that could buy American
IOFFE: They`re going to buy Apple products anyway. And they`re always
going to be closer to Europe, they`re always going to have stronger ties
with Europe, especially economically. Like, do we really want closer ties
with Russia? Which is like, look at what they do in Europe. They get mad
at the Ukraine, they turn off the gas, and that affects Germany and
Slovakia and everyone`s freezing in the winter because Russia is mad at the
Ukraine. Do we really want to be more dependent on a fickle, whimsical
power like that?
HARRIS-PERRY: Interesting. I wonder, obviously you have actual personal
ties here, but I wonder if there`s been a shift in the thoughts about
consumption. The very sort of American notion that consumption equals
freedom. And I wonder if that remains as a kind of critique of the actual
American way of imagining what freedom is.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, it was. When the borders were closed during the
kitchen debate in `50, and then until Gorbachev came in and sort of until
the late `80s and early `90s, there was an idea that once you build a
consumer society, actually it`s going to be a freer society. That really
didn`t work out. It didn`t work out, not just for Russia, it didn`t work
out for a lot of other countries. Because now we understand better what
capitalism versus communism is. So in this sense, it is correct.
In another way, of course, big firms are doing very well in Russia.
McDonald`s. All these American firms. The bigger you are, the better you
do. The smaller you are, the worse you do. And that goes back to Russian
ideology, human rights, and all these other things. Basically, a small man
does not have the right and does not have the power. And as for the
kitchen debates and Putin, and Putin, Nixon came into the Soviet Union with
the idea, the power of butter is stronger than the power of guns. Russia
still believes that the power of guns, it`s 60 years later.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to shift it just a little bit, because as much as
there was this debate about consumer goods that was happening in `59, now
we`re in a debate about sort of human rights violations, which is really
emphasized in the Snowden and NSA question. I want to listen really
quickly to what the president said about the NSA yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We show a restraint that many governments around the world don`t
even think to do, refuse to show. And that includes, by the way, some of
America`s most vocal critics. We shouldn`t forget the difference between
the ability of our government to collect information online under strict
guidelines and for narrow purposes, and the willingness of some other
governments to throw their own citizens in prison for what they say online.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is exactly the thing that progressives are not
buying. They`re like, no, Mr. President, that`s mostly a false
distinction, the more that we move toward this NSA spying, the more that
we`re moving towards the very thing we`ve been in a debate about with
countries like Russia for a very long time.
COBB: I think this is sort of a false dichotomy. I think we should be
concerned about what the NSA is doing. I think we should be concerned
about looking at what the Stasi did in East Germany and saying, are we
trying to replicate that or are we unintentionally replicating it, where
are we headed? I think those are very valid questions. At the same time,
I think there`s a real significant critique, and progressives do ourselves
no favors by pretending that somehow or another, Russia is a haven,
especially when we look at what Anna Poliakovskaya (ph) was saying, and I
probably butchered her pronunciation, but what she was saying about Putin
and the Putin government before she was killed. And it still rings very
true. She said that the Duma was basically an adjunct to what he wanted to
accomplish, and that as a journalist, your life was in jeopardy and so on
if you kind of made criticisms that the government felt that they didn`t
like. And so I don`t think we should ignore that, because the implication
is that we care more about American privacy than we care about Russian
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, lives, I think that`s critical. When we come back, I`m
going to talk about the fact that Russia is -- I`ve got a very personal
beef with at the moment, because some of their issues may keep me from
having a vacation in February. When we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: A new law in Russia prohibits the promotion of, quote,
"nontraditional sexual relations to minors." The law bans gay pride
rallies and other public advocacy for equal rights. Critics say it could
also lead to more violence against gays or those perceived to be gay. The
new law raises serious questions about Russia`s role as host of the 2014
winter Olympics and how the international community should respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to just make very clear right now, I do not think it`s
appropriate to boycott the Olympics. We`ve got a bunch of Americans out
there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed.
Nobody`s more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian
legislation that you`ve been seeing in Russia, but as I said, just this
week, I`ve spoken out against that not just with respect to Russia, but a
number of other countries, where we continue to do work with them, but we
have a strong agreement on this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So few are calling for an outright boycott, but some gay
rights advocates have called for the International Olympic Committee to
move the 2014 games out of Russia. Or there`s the idea from Cyd Zeigler,
co-founder of outsports.com, ban Russia from competing in its own games.
And in the interests of full disclosure, I`d like to note that NBC, as the
broadcaster of the games, has a major financial interest in what happens in
the Sochi Olympics, and I will only get a vacation in February if we are
preempted for Olympics coverage. So we want the Olympics to go on.
But joining me now from Burbank, California, is Cyd Zeigler. Thanks for
joining us today. Hi, Cyd.
CYD ZEIGLER, OUTSPORTS.COM: I want you to have your vacation.
HARRIS-PERRY: But not at the cost of, particularly of the safety and the
rights and freedoms of LGBT athletes. So tell me about your plan and how
do you think Russia is likely to respond to the idea of not being able to
compete in their own games.
ZEIGLER: Well, everyone wants to compete in sports. And nobody wants to
sit on the sidelines. The idea of boycotting the Olympic Games, I`m glad
that the idea is essentially dead. It`s not going to have -- the president
doesn`t support it, the USOC doesn`t support it. Look, bans have worked in
the past to change human rights issues in countries. It worked in South
Africa. It worked with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These are racial and
gender issues. And there`s an opportunity here to begin a conversation
that LGBT issues and their human rights are on par with those other things.
So I think it`s important to start talking about banning Russia and other
nations. Russia is not the only country that has these horrible regressive
laws against LBGT people. So I think the Olympics are a great opportunity
to do this.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting, obviously, the Olympics have had their
kind of political moments. There`s a moment in Mexico City when Tommy
Smith and John Carlos raised their black power fists. There`s, of course,
Jesse Owens in Germany, his athletic prowess demonstrating kind of the lie
that is Nazism. But at the same time, I wonder -- I saw a couple of heads
shaking when Cyd said, oh, bans work, and I saw some heads shaking at the
ELDER: I think in some of those countries, it would have worked, but
Russia is a totally different beast. It`s still in the sort of like fallen
empire syndrome. And I think if you sort of just try to yell at it, it
kind of recoils into itself. I don`t think that that kind of pressure will
change the reality on the ground for gays and lesbians in Russia.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Cyd, I`m wondering if there should be any kind of a
larger -- in other words, as the IOC is thinking about where to place
Olympics, whether they are winter or summer going forward, should human
rights be one part of an equation?
ZIEGLER: Of course. If you ban Russia from its own games, it`s not as
though they`re suddenly going to change their law. It has to be one small
piece. I mean, you think about in the world of sports, right now, today is
the opening ceremony of the track and field world championships in Moscow.
So the Olympics are one small piece of the conversation. Of course,
talking about human rights issues and selecting other nations, which the
IOC has already started talking about. There has to be political pressure,
from mostly from inside, and I think that`s what a ban does. I think it
puts political pressure from inside the country, because the Russian
citizens themselves, they don`t want to sit on the sidelines for this. So
this is just one tiny little piece of the kind of pressure we could put on
countries to change their policy.
IOFFE: I was actually talking to some Russian gay friends of mine, and
they don`t agree with the ban. They say that like everywhere else, the
only thing that works in fighting homophobia is people coming out and
people realizing that their friend or their brother or, you know, somebody
they went to school with is gay, and they`re normal. And so while I don`t
agree with President Obama, that he was -- that nobody was more offended
than him --
HARRIS-PERRY: That was kind of a weird moment. He`s like, nobody`s more
offended, and I`m thinking, no, maybe just a few people are. Yes, that`s
IOFFE: I do agree with him that what does work better is gay and lesbian
athletes going to the Olympics, winning a bunch of medals, and showing that
their sexual orientation in no way affects their athletic prowess.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s the Jesse Owens solution. I will come and demonstrate
I`m not sub-human.
IOFFE: And this is actually the problem with the law inside the country.
Is that it doesn`t just ban propaganda, it bans people even saying that gay
relationships are on par with -- homosexual relationships, or that
homosexuality or homosexual relationships are normal, and so it kind of
criminalizes that process of coming out. It criminalizes the normalization
of gay and lesbians.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think, Cyd, we`ve got to go, but I do really want to
say thank you for saying here how important it is that we not just think of
this as a sideline, literally marginal issue, but rather that we see this
as part of the kind of fundamental human rights conversation that we`re
having on the international stage.
ZIEGLER: Yeah, my calling a ban is just one piece of it. The most
important thing is for athletes to go and hold the flags and be proud.
That is the most important thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Cyd Ziegler, Julia Ioffe, and Dr. Nina
Khrushcheva, thank you so much for being here. Up next, my letter of the
week is truly a hair-raising situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: From time to time on the MHP show, we find reason to wade
into the thick of things on the subject of African-American women`s hair.
But this week, it was Oprah Winfrey demanding that we talk about hair on
the cover of the September issue of "O" magazine, where her usually solo
feature was upstaged by a massive, perfectly round afro. Turns out Oprah`s
own considerable head of hair got a whole lot bigger, courtesy of a faux
fro. Her cover co-star was actually a 3 1/2-pound wig, designed by
hairstylist to the stars, Kim Kimble, who coincidentally was also shocked
this week along with the rest of us when another one of her superstar
clients snatched her own hair right off. It was just a couple of weeks ago
that headlines declaring Beyonce gets attacked by a fan had us all
clarifying that, no, it was a real fan, the kind that makes wind.
Well, Beyonce decided to make sure that wouldn`t happen again. She ditched
the weave, chopped off her own hair, and revealed the new look on
Instagram, a short pixie cut. Now, as an official member of the beehive,
I`ve been enjoying the heck out of this hairy pop culture moment. Until at
the airport on my way back from Kentucky this week, it got personal. Which
is why today`s letter, I need to have a small talk with the man in charge
of the Transportation Security Administration.
Dear John Pistole, it`s me, Melissa. Yesterday, we listened to President
Obama offer us his assurances that the National Security Agency isn`t
interested in spying on ordinary people. Which would have been a relief to
hear if I hadn`t had an up close and personal experience with the overreach
of a completely different government agency. Turns out it`s not the NSA I
need to be worried about, it`s the TSA, getting all up in the business of
regular folks. And I mean all up in the business.
Listen, I am no stranger to pre-flight security screening processes. It`s
become a regular procedure for me, thanks to the weekly flights between New
Orleans and New York. And I`m grateful for the diligence of the TSA in
doing the tough job of keeping us all safe. But this time, as I prepared
to depart from the Kentucky airport, I experienced, let`s call it, a kink
in that familiar routine.
There I was, having just stepped out of the body scanner, when something
unusual happened. The TSA agent pulled me to the side and proceeded to
examine my hair. And by examine, I don`t mean a simple pat, pat, pat. Oh,
no, we`re talking about fingers all up through the braids, scalp, tickling
treatment. I was sent on my way feeling a little violated, and unclear
about why, exactly, that particular intrusion was necessary. Because if
your $170,000 machine can see under my clothes, how come it can`t figure
out that I am not hiding a weapon in my braids? Maybe it`s time to
recalibrate the machine.
So let`s be clear. I realize that this is an occasional occurrence in my
otherwise privileged position, getting to fly around the country for my
job. This isn`t a stop and frisk, stand your ground, end of the Voting
Right Act kind of problem. But it is one of the countless microaggressions
endured by African-American women on a daily basis, especially since I`m
not alone with those -- among those with textured hair who have been
singled out for hands-on treatment by the TSA.
Now, if I didn`t know that Beyonce flies on a private plane, I might have
wondered if her new short hair had anything to do with wanting to avoid her
sister Solange`s experience of the TSA searching her hair last year.
Solange took it all in good stride when she joked on Twitter that she was a
victim of discrim-fro-nation.
But John, I understand the TSA`s screening procedures are no laughing
matter for you, and you`ve got considerable, sensible reforms, trying to
make TSA screening more security and less security theater. So all I`m
asking is that while you`re rewriting that script, please consider who the
TSA has been casting as potential villains, because we can agree that there
remains the need for protection from a threat, but I`m here to tell you,
you are not going to find it in my hair. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Will Wheaton is pretty picked off, mad, even, about sharks.
And we`ll get to that. But first, some of you might be asking, who`s Will
Wheaton? You might remember him from the `80s classic, "Stand by Me," or
the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or as himself on CBS`s "The Big
Bang Theory." Something Wheaton and millions have watched practically since
he was in "Stand by Me" is Discovery Channel`s "Shark Week," an annual
festival of awesome, full of information about sharks. Information we`re
supposed to trust and believe. But Wheaton is mad, because this year`s
"Shark Week" kicked off last week with a fake documentary, alleging that
the megaladon, an ancient and massive super shark, that has been very, very
instinct for a while, could still be alive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re talking about a giant shark. That thing is
enormous. If the shark that`s in the Nazi U-boat photo is, in fact, the
same shark that in the shark i-photo (ph) that was taken just after the
boat attack, then that means there`s been a 50-ton monster in these waters
for over 70 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah -- no. Wheaton says Discovery betrayed its audience by
presenting a mockumentary as fact. Writing on his site, quote, "we tune
into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that
whatever we`re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can
trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world
around us. That`s why we watch it in the first place."
OK. So maybe we also watch for really cool images of sharks, but that
doesn`t make Wheaton`s point about honesty and truth any less salient.
Perception is powerful. It`s a concern that was shared this week by none
other than Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee,
who wrote of his concerns via letters to the heads of CNN and NBC
Entertainment, complaining about planned programming about Hillary Clinton,
threatening not to partner with either network in 2016 primary debates nor
sanction primary debates, which they sponsor, and claiming in both cases
that the programming is a thinly veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the
scales of 2016 presidential elections.
Joining me now are journalists Farai Chideya, Buzzfeed foreign editor
Miriam Elder, Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now,
and NPR media correspondent, David Folkenflik, who is author of "Murdoch`s
Word: The Last of the Old Media Empires."
OK. So I feel a little silly starting with megaladon, but in connection
with the Hillary Clinton moviegate, it does feel like there`s this question
of, can I trust media? Can I trust where I`m supposed to be getting
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, AUTHOR: It`s a very interesting moment, because the real
question is truth in advertising. You know, there was a little bit of a
caption that flittered by at the very end of that hour that said, by the
way, don`t really believe any of this. We have nothing to do with it.
People may have been actors. Don`t worry about it. And it was so quick,
nobody could really see it, and it certainly wasn`t advertised that way.
So in a sense, what Discovery was doing here, was "Shark Week" is
entertainment, it wasn`t saying these are all really, truly documentaries,
and if people come to that with an expectation of entertainment purely, and
not the idea that these are all scientifically rigorous, maybe they give it
a pass. But you have no way of knowing that as a viewer.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Amy, I want to ask about that notion of entertainment
versus information. Because we do have two statements from NBC News and
NBC Entertainment. And they are completely separate things, right? So NBC
News says, "NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment and has
no involvement in this project." NBC Entertainment writes, "NBC
Entertainment has many projects in development, and this particular mini
series, which has nothing to do with the NBC News division, is in its very
early stages. A script has not been written nor has it been ordered to
production. It would be premature to draw any conclusions or make any
assumptions about it at this time."
But you can see how folks might think that NBC News and NBC Entertainment
might have to do with one another. Is this problem generated in part
because of the kind of massive corporate structure that is our media at
AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACY NOW: Well, first of all, yes, I think the issue of
this fake sharkumentary, people should see "Blackfish," which is an
independent story, which is a true story about the orcas in captivity at
Seaworld, and how they become killer because they`re in captivity. It`s an
unbelievable film, and it`s an independent, and it`s true.
When it comes to NBC Entertainment and NBC News, although sometimes I
wonder, which is the entertainment and which is the news.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, sure!
GOODMAN: On the issue of the series, what`s -- I have a couple issues.
One is, here is Reince Priebus saying, we`re not going to collaborate with
you on the primaries. I don`t think that the parties and the networks
should be collaborating. I think they should be independent. I don`t
think parties should be setting the rules that the audience doesn`t know
about on these primaries. And I think this should be exposed at this
Number two, on this, I don`t think it`s just a Republican/Democrat thing.
Obviously, the Republicans want to make a big deal about this, because they
don`t have a lot else to make a big deal about when it comes to their
successes, so they are going to blow this thing up. But I think it`s
interesting that David Brock, who represents Media Matters of America, is
also uncertain about this, because a series, this mini series, is not
necessarily, and that`s why I was a little surprised at Reince Priebus`
approach, is going to be positive about Hillary Clinton. I mean, there are
a lot of issues, especially if you`re into the entertainment angle of
things, that she doesn`t want necessarily exposed. And I wonder if the
Clintons are for or against this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, your point is an important one. I want to take a
moment, because I actually think this is one of the few moments in life
when I have general overarching agreement with Priebus, but I am not the
only person sort of part of the NBC News family who thinks this. I want to
show Andrea Mitchell responding to this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: You`ve been involved in debates, debate prep,
debate negotiations, and here you`ve got the Republican chairman, I would
say understandably, miffed about these Hillary Clinton films, one a
documentary, the other an entertainment film, which is all about --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bad idea. A bad idea.
MITCHELL: A movie. And a lot of news people would say, including NBC News
people, including Chuck Todd and all the rest of us, a really bad idea,
given the timing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That somehow, whatever the content of it, it feels like a
really bad idea in this moment for a news organization to be producing
entertainment about a potential candidate.
FARAI CHIDEYA, PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM: But, just to add to all the
confusion, yesterday, "The New York Times" broke that Fox --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, I love this?
CHIDEYA: That a division of Fox may actually join in as a co-producer of
the Hillary Clinton movie.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is my favorite wrinkle in the story.
CHIDEYA: So it`s like everything that sinks must converge. And I
definitely think that media consolidation, which we`ve been keeping an eye
on for 20-plus years, is causing strange bedfellows, but this may be the
even strangest. So is Reince Priebus going to go out against Fox if they
come in as a co-producer?
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t know! That would thicken the plot.
FOLKENFLIK: I`ve got to say, we have to acknowledge here that Republicans
are doing this, not just simply thinking about NBC. And obviously, NBC
News itself would not be a producer.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, it`s NBC Entertainment. That`s right.
FOLKENFLIK: (inaudible) very clear about this, and you can understand the
frustration of Chuck and of Andrea, because they say, look, we`re not going
to win no matter what happens on this one. But it is also worth pointing
out, this isn`t just done in the vacuum of NBC News. This is done with
this very channel, MSNBC, the liberal identity that is attached to it, for
good cause. You know, if you think back to the 2008 convention, you know,
on the floor of the Republican National Convention, people were, you know,
in St. Paul, chanting, you know, NBC, in a disparaging way. The strong
embrace of the liberal identity that MSNBC has attached to that -- Reince
Priebus has done a very in some ways clever and adroit move, because he is
saying, look, either you guys at NBC are going to look like you`re just
Republican bashers, or you`re going to look weak, as though somehow you`ve
caved in doing something highly critical (ph).
HARRIS-PERRY: I think this is such an important point. There`s an NBC
entertainment division, there`s an NBC news division, there`s MSNBC. I
think many of us who work at MSNBC might have various opinions about the
embrace of progressivism or liberalism on the channel overall. And
certainly, when you have journalists like Chuck Todd or like Andrea
Mitchell, I think they would sort of firmly reject the idea that they
themselves are operating with a particular sort of ideological bent, but I
think that is exactly right, because they all say NBC in them, right, it
becomes very easy to lump them into a pot and basically say, NBC is
creating Hillary Clinton propaganda (inaudible). I promise, so much more,
particularly on this consolidation question, because you know, that`s
happening. So more is coming up next. Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
When President Abraham Lincoln greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, the
Civil War was already raging. And he reportedly told her, "So, you`re the
little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."
Sure, President Lincoln`s greeting was a b of an overstatement, but what he
was referring to was a series that Stowe had written for `The National
Era", a newspaper issued weekly out of the District of Columbia for well
over a decade. That newspaper series that Stowe published later became the
book that we know as "Uncle Tom`s Cabin."
And as far as starting wars with the written ward, the Spanish-American War
is sometimes referred to as the General`s War, because of how newspaper
tycoon Williams Randolph Hearst used his "New York Journal" to stoke
American passions against Spain in the 19th century, with little to no
evidence to back up his claims.
Since the country`s origins, newspaper have been and still have a critical
institution in our culture, helping to shape public opinion. And there is
a public trust inherent in their power to impact action. Perhaps no
example is more famous in our modern times than the two reporters from "The
Washington Post," who broke the Watergate story in the early 1970s, helping
to bring down a president.
The reporting by Bob Woodward by Carl Bernstein helped to solidify "The
Post" position as a journalistic giant. Well, this week, Amazon.com
founder, Jeff Bezos, paid $250 million for that giant, $250 million to own
an institution. That is less than 1 percent of his net worth, according to
"Forbes." Less than 1 percent.
Also, last Saturday, "The New York Times" company sold "The Boston Globe"
to Red Sox owner, John Henry, for $70 million, a fraction of the $1.1
billion "The Times" paid for it 20 years ago.
When these crucial pillars of the fourth estate, institutions that have
earned the public trust, and through that trust, hold great power, when
they change hands, we`re left to wonder what their new billionaire owners
intend to do with them.
Joining me again are: journalism professor Farai Chideya, Miriam Elder of
BuzzFeed, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, and NPR`s David Folkenflik.
All right. What are we to make of the acquisition of "The Washington
FARAI CHIDEYA, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR: Well, this is going to keep
happening, first of all. I mean, if you watch on a much smaller scale, you
have tech money buying "The New Republic." And I think what we`re going to
see is the start of a decade of realignment of media, which is viewed as a
money-losing proposition, with the people who have deep pockets. So that`
going to be tech money, real estate money, edge fund money, possibly.
But I think that basically what we`re seeing is a huge fiscal devaluation
of media. When "Newsweek" was sold, before it was "Daily Beast", it was
sold for a dollar in debt. Like $40 million in debt to an entrepreneur.
So, from a fiscal standpoint, this makes sense. From a journalistic
standpoint, the question is, who`s going to educate people from the tech
industry and other industries who have money about what journalism is and
hat it should be?
And then, finally, what I would say, I wrote an open letter to Jeff Bezos,
just sort of urging a look at diversity. Because the circulation of "The
Post" has dropped in half, like over the past decade or so. And "The Post"
has never really kept up with the racial and economic and cultural
diversity of Washington, the city, or the Beltway region, not just Capitol
CHIDEYA: So all of those things are on the table, but we`re going to see
more of this.
HARRIS-PERRY: On your point about sort of educating what journalism is, I
keep thinking, the Amazon model -- and it`s not going to say that Bezos is
going to bring in the Amazon model. The Amazon model is a speed model
right. And we know this also about the business insider acquisition, it`s
about how quickly you get it out there, it`s a volume model. That`s what`s
made them sort the masters of the retail Internet universe.
How quickly they can get it to you and how many different things. That`s
really different than journalism.
AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACY NOW: I recommend everyone to read Matt McClellan`s
speech. I was (INAUDIBLE). But on the issue of the questions that should
be asked of Jeff Bezos, in addition to what Farai is saying, in 2010,
Amazon dumped WikiLeaks as their server to be able to use it.
They just clinched a deal earlier this year for -- for a $600 million deal
with the CIA, for a CIA Cloud. What kind of questions will "The Washington
Post" be allowed to ask about the NSA and spying, with a close relationship
Bezos has with the Central Intelligence Agency.
HARRIS-PERRY: So to the extent that the fourth estate is supposed to be
the thing that uncovers and provides information, that powerful sources
don`t want us to have, this particularly relationship strikes you as deeply
GOODMAN: Yes, and I think these are the questions that have to be raised.
Not to mention, what is Jeff Bezos want in Washington? I mean, one of the
ways Amazon has grown tremendously at the expense of independent bookstores
and corporate bookstores all over the country is this tax-free online
And these are the kind of issues he presses for. He says he`s not going to
have to do with content, but we all know how newsrooms work. He doesn`t
have to walk into the newsroom and say, Melissa, I don`t want you talking
GOODMAN: If people -- journalists know how they get ahead in a newsroom
and how they get marginalized.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NPR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Look, we all know how newsrooms
work and yet newsrooms according to their culture and the culture they`re
steeped in. If he retains the culture, there`s the possibility that it
will go on. If you look at the masthead, it says, "The Washington Post"
and the independent newspaper. It is in a sense independent, but
independent of what?
Jeff Bezos, a huge constellation of business interests. You know, this is
-- there are enormous things as Amy says. And at the same time, you know,
on the plus side, he brings, if not the Amazon mojo, you know, of the
company, because he`s doing it as an independent investor. He brings a
mindset that says, I want to be exquisitely attuned to what people and
Now, if you look at BuzzFeed, they`ve interpreted that in a very specific
way. He may not do it with speed. He may say, our customers need quality
depth and context, but we just don`t know what he`s going to do, because he
doesn`t know what he`s going to do yet.
HARRIS-PERRY: This question about speed and depth and context, and also I
think Farai`s point about the issue of diversity and the point about
independence, all sort of find themselves in a quirky place when we`re
talking about not traditional print, but getting your news particularly
from online sources, where speed is at the core of it, where the kind of
little "d" democracy of it means that more people can enter into the
information gathering and expression business.
In the end, is the acquisition of an old-fashioned newspaper worth, even
worth $250 million, even if that`s not much for him?
MIRIAM ELDER, BUZZFEED: Well, "The Washington Post" as an institution, I
don`t think anybody would want to see it go. If this is the way to save
it, this is the way to do it.
I think it depends on what he makes out of it. If he can adapt it to the
modern age, where he can understand that news these days, it`s also part of
a conversation. People are living online, people are living on Twitter,
and people want to see the things they`re concerned about, be that more
diversity, and talking about issues responding to power.
I think we also saw quite a bit of schizophrenia around "The Washington
Post" around the NSA stuff. You had reporting on the NSA. They were one
of the biggest papers, one of the two papers alongside "The Guardian" to
issue the leaks. You had editorial pages saying, hold on, we have to stop
So, I don`t know -- I think as long as there`s an adaptation to what the
American public wants, then, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I`m not sure that -- so, I hear you on what the American
public wants, but that always makes me a little bit nervous, only because
part of what we choose from is a menu of options that are there. And so,
this is part of some of the independent media piece, right, to the extent
that independent media gets squeezed, I`m not sure that people are making -
- it`s like, the American public wants reality TV. Well, no, I mean,
reality television is what`s on. So you pick which one of them you want.
So, I guess that`s my only concern, do we even have on our menu,
independent, long-form sort of deep, in-depth journalism?
CHIDEYA: We do, if we seek it. The reality is, and I think, you know, the
rise of BuzzFeed exemplifies this, and also in some ways the rise of
Democracy Now, is that you can have very strong brands that develop very
strong followings based on open markets in media.
But what we don`t really have is that town hall function that we used to.
And newspapers used to be part of that kind of town hall, all-American --
like all Americans used to watch presidential debates or most, you know,
most Americans used to watch the nightly news. Don`t really anymore. And
newspapers also used to be that, like that gathering space.
Of course, that gathering space was never completely fair. So you see
black Americans, gay and lesbian Americans, all these other groups written
out of, you know, the news. So you have satellite publications that dealt
with other communities` needs.
What I would love to see, "The Washington Post" realize that it`s in a
majority/minority city, that it has to attract -- I mean, they`ve had
internal reports for years saying they have to attract more Latinos, stop
the hemorrhaging of the African-American readers. They can do by reporting
on the city in which they live, more in depth.
And still do the political news that`s national and international. But if
they want to keep some kind of hometown advantage, they`re going to have to
figure out whose hometown they`re in. It`s not Capitol Hill. It`s
GOODMAN: "The Washington Post" very much reflects the bipartisan consensus
in Washington. I know a lot is made of the gridlock, but I think it`s much
more about the consensus. And I think most Americans fall outside of that.
I mean, they`ve got to start covering the silenced majority, not the silent
majority. I mean, I think we`re talking about not a fringe minority or a
silent majority, but the silenced majority, silenced by the corporate
media. And that includes --
HARRIS-PERRY: So play that out for a little bit. When you say the
consensus, you`re talking about the things that are simply off the table
for conversation -- so there`s a set of things we fight about --
GOODMAN: -- Democrat and Republican representatives in Washington, D.C.,
that so often leave out most Americans. They`ll also talk about the
bickering. But, for example, just in the last few weeks, we have seen a
remarkable "yes" consensus that`s around the NSA.
I mean, you`ve had the bill that was introduced by Conyers and Amash of
Michigan, Republican and Democrat. They got very little coverage in this
country. It did lose, but by a very small percentage. You can be sure
that President Obama paid attention.
But we are seeing something else rise that the corporate media has not
FOLKENFLIK: And yet if you talk to people who have been involved in
running "The Post" and "The Post" companies as I have, and talk to people
who are their competitors, the major issue besetting them is that they have
been a hyper example of the problem of the newspaper industry in general.
They used to be the masters of what we call penetration, which is a number
of households in a major metro area that actually pay for the paper to get
home every day.
They`ve fallen off a cliff in terms of circulation and the advertising
rates have similarly plummeted, so they`re not a profitable newspaper.
Should they be covering the question of the city, like the district as a
city better? Perhaps they really should.
But that`s not entirely what their decline is about. They are in this
interesting fight, both as a local publication and as a national one, with
things like "Politico", things like BuzzFeed, that are eating their lunch
around the edges and they haven`t been able to solve it. A guy like Jeff
HARRIS-PERRY: That is the town hall issue that took the "New Orleans Time
Picayune" off my front step. On the one hand, I can`t do a golden age of
the "Times Picayune", right, a paper that always had a variety of issues
around ideology and diversity, but on the other hand, in a city that so
desperately needs coverage of our elected officials, that so desperately
needs coverage of our murder rate and that sort of thing, when that goes
away, and instead, so you now have to seek it out.
CHIDEYA: I think it`s time to recruit a billionaire to buy "The Times-
Picayune." And I`m not even joking when I talk to some friends, I was
like, seven days a week, let`s get "The Times-Picayune" up to seven days a
HARRIS-PERRY: Jeff, I`m telling you, you can pick up "The Times-Picayune"
way cheaper than "The Washington Post."
But stay right there, because up next, the real new media, where cutting
edge coverage meets cute, cuddly animals -- seriously -- when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: For all the attention paid to the change in ownership at
"The Washington Post," newspapers are no longer the main or even a main
source of public information. There are now thousands of outlets vying for
your attention. That`s why Web sites like because BuzzFeed also has lists
of 20 adorably awkward yearbook photos of pop stars. Yes, that`s real
thing on BuzzFeed right now. Just wait until you see Drake and Lil` John.
OK, it`s also why news organizations from "Time" magazine, to "The
Huffington Post", to NBC, had stories about the brand-new live 24-hour feed
of giant pandas -- they`re so cute -- courtesy of China Network Television.
Right now, the panda is just sleeping. Yes. That`s not exciting.
But sometimes it takes the silly stuff and the fun stuff, and the stuff you
just can`t tear your eyes away from to get us to pay attention to the
serious stuff. And hey, we here at Nerdland aren`t above it, so we`re
going to keep the cute little pandas right on screen, right there,
throughout the whole segment.
OK. So this is like our BuzzFeed moment, this idea that -- so to your
point about what consumers want, the truth is, we are trying to put
together the show this morning and productivity dropped to zero, because we
started looking at panda cam, right? Or if you`re going to go down that
rabbit hole of the other stuff on the side.
ELDER: That`s the thing, people look at it. And I don`t though. I`ve
started to think that maybe we should compare these things less to
newspapers and more to television channels where you can watcher "The
Simpsons" and then watch the news.
This is the way the world works. People want to get all sorts of content
from one site. We all have senses of humor and we`re all deeply interested
in politics and that`s OK.
And yet, there`s a thing about measuring our success by clicks, page views,
even by subscribers, and the way that newspaper did, by ratings, that makes
me wonder where or not we can ever judge it by content.
GOODMAN: I say, go, pandas!
HARRIS-PERRY: Go, pandas. OK.
GOODMAN: The fact that so many people will be or are already watching
these pandas in China, and there are other links to the Edinburgh zoo and
other places around the world, is so important. People love, they revere
these little animal, and nature if and if we then make the link to climate
change. For example, the fact that these adorable, precious, threatened
pandas in China could lose the food that they eat, the bamboo, by the end
of the century, this is being raised by Chinese scientists and scientists
around the world, the fact that a Stanford University study just said that
we have not seen the climate warming like this in -- since -- in 65 million
years, 9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit, our temperature could increase by the
end of the century.
I think the pandas could be the key to this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love this. It`s now like, go, pandas, for the pandas`
own sake. I love hearing you say we love the pandas and they`re adorable
and we revere them, so that helps to move us in a particular policy
It also helps me think about the respectability rights of the civil rights
movement that says, the only problem with that is what if you`re not a
cute, cuddly animal? What if you`re endangered and kind of slimy and
reptilian? So, I still worry that there`s --
FOLKENFLIK: Trying to bring us back to "Shark Week" again?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right. But seriously, that`s part of what happens
with that mockumentary, that some kind of animals get pushed out of our
public consciousness, because day don`t look like that.
GOODMAN: But they are a way of warning the world to what`s happening. And
I think that is very important. And I also think, I mean, it`s a way to
challenge sound bite media. I have never felt that people`s attention
span, even kids` is like 8 or 9 seconds. That`s what the corporate media
You give people something interesting, and they will watch and they will
watch, and they will watch. You play the full speeches, for example,
that`s going to come up on the march on Washington, and people will be
HARRIS-PERRY: So the goal is to become sufficiently interesting and
compelling, that we become like the pandas. In that sense, something that
people, in fact, want to spend time with and learn something.
HARRIS-PERRY: Please, go ahead.
FOLKENFLIK: I was going to say, I think it`s more of the exception than
the rule. But down in Washington, when they bring pandas over to mate at
the Washington Zoo, the federal Washington would shut down and watch them.
It`s like they were royals, they were obsessed with it. That was fine.
You could slice that in environmental issues, you could slice in terms of
foreign policy, and whether they were papering over tensions between
Chinese and the U.S. That`s all fine.
It gets back a little bit to where we were talking about, about what people
want, though. You know, a great news organization provides people what
they want, what they need, and what they didn`t know they wanted.
FOLKENFLIK: And a combination of this that can be substantive and silly
and diverting, but done intelligently, it`s a question of the menu being
complete. Not that the menu isn`t ever interesting in a more frivolous
HARRIS-PERRY: And a little bit of frivolity doesn`t necessarily -- isn`t a
FOLKENFLIK: As long as the other stuff is in there.
CHIDEYA: I think, to me, I see it more of a narcotic. Just like people,
basically, going through their lives, bored or just otherwise apathetic.
And I love pandas, don`t get me wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: Who doesn`t love that panda?
CHIDEYA: But I don`t see it necessarily as transformative. I think people
are just looking for relief from the everyday stresses, and it`s going to
be difficult to --
GOODMAN: But you could be surprised, because, if, in fact, then, the
networks will do spin-offs and everything, well, what if the panda doesn`t
have that bamboo how do these pandas exist? How do we all exist? That`s
CHIDEYA: And I`ve been following a lot of the environmental issues in
China, because, of course, there`s this dam building that`s going on. And
all sorts of parts of China are being urbanized, new cities are -- I mean,
it`s really astounding what`s going on in China today, with enormous
government pushes to subsidize the building of cities, ending the rights of
some farmers, et cetera. But --
GOODMAN: And people are dying in China and the United States as a result
of extreme weather. We`ve got to hear those words, climate change.
CHIDEYA: I don`t have as much faith that the narratives will be connected.
I think they can be, but I`m not sure --
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. I like that idea. So, it allows us to keep the
adorable panda cam, but also do the work of making the connections to what
is important. Maybe we`ll just keep -- maybe we should keep panda cam up
when we do our interracial conversation tomorrow, because it`s like, is
there black and white?
GOODMAN: And when we show the flooding.
HARRIS-PERRY: Miriam Elder and David Folkenflik, thank you so much. And
up next, we`re going to take you behind the scenes of the march on
Washington, as we approach the 50th anniversary of this historic event.
HARRIS-PERRY: In two weeks, this nation will begin celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the march on Washington for jobs and freedom. That march
saw more than 200,000 people peacefully gather in our nation`s capital at
the height of the civil rights movement.
NBC News was there and caught up with one of the march`s notable
participants to ask about the success of the event. Here`s a look inside
the vault with a scene out of 1963.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The leaders of this march are now on their way to the White House
to see President Kennedy, but among the dignitaries still here is Dick
Dick, what are your feelings at this end of this long and rather exciting
DICK GREGORY: Well, my feelings is, after being here, witnessing this,
that as long as there`s a man alive on the face of the earth, this day will
always be remembered the world over.
REPORTER: What do you think were the high spots?
GREGORY: Well, the high spots, to me, and I think psychologically, to many
people, this was the first time in the history of this country, a group of
Negroes have ever been invited anywhere.
REPORTER: Has this been a success by the standards that the leaders have
set for themselves the before it all began?
GREGORY: Oh, yes, this has been a success in every form. I don`t think
ever before have you been able to get these many people together from all
different walks of life -- one, no one has ever gathered these many people
together without promising them anything. We did not come here with no
promises. Not even did we know where we were going to stay, if we would
have enough food, if we would have enough water.
And to sit and look at something that has lasted all day long, with as much
love and as much feeling as this have, definitely, it`s been a success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that interview.
And when we come back -- how reporting the movement helped to make the
HARRIS-PERRY: When three friends of journalist Ida B. Wells were lynched
in 1982, she responded with an investigative report debunking the myth that
lynching were a response to black male`s sexual violence against white
women. She published the piece in "The Memphis Free Speech", and her
account so angered white women, they destroyed "The Memphis Free" speech
offices and ran Wells from town.
But even in exile, Wells continued to write about Southern racial violence
for "The New York Ace", "The Chicago Defender", and "The Chicago
Conservator" for decades.
In the 1920s, legendary civil rights activist, Walter White, took
investigative journalism and courage to another level. His light
complexion and blue eyes allowed him to infiltrate KKK groups, gather
details about lynchings and report the names and crimes of the
participants. His writings for the NAACP magazine, "The Crisis", were
definitive in shaping northern public opinion about southern violence.
Wells and Whiter are two of the earlier journalist activists, who
demonstrated the power of the press to shape social movements.
Leaders of the mid-century civil rights movement fully understood the power
of the press and they confronted Jim Crow in ways specifically designed to
create stories and generate visual footage that would highlight the horrors
of racial injustice. We remember the words of King and the actions of men
like John Lewis and the risks taken by thousands of demonstrators in part
because of reporters who were on the front lines, taking the pictures and
recording their stories.
Joining the panel is Jeff Nilsson, director of archives at "The Saturday
Evening Post". And back with us is also historian, Jelani Cobb.
So, I want to open this up a little bit, just in this moment, as we`re
about to celebrate the 50th anniversary, what is the role of the press in
social and political movements? Pick one role of the press.
JEFF NILSSON, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST: I think it`s important, as I look
across, 50 years and even longer, the big difference was that 50 years ago,
the black community, the white community had this great chasm between them,
and there was no communication between each other and there was, for the
early reporters, there was this great area to start introducing
There was general acceptance, every generation since then, as each
generation of reporters took up the story. But there was almost no
communication, and there was no idea what black people were facing in the
HARRIS-PERRY: So this point of information, though, is such a -- if we go
back to what we were talking about, all the way to the Hillary Clinton
documentary question, what I wondered now, given sort of the nature of our
media, is whether or not, if you report on a social movement or if you
report on the horrors of injustice, if people receive it as new information
that then shapes their opinion, or if they see it as simply ideologically
driven by the reporters themselves.
So, if FOX News is reporting on the Tea Party, or if MSNBC is reporting on
the Trayvon Martin rallies, that that`s actually doesn`t get received as
new information that ought to update my world view.
JELANI COBB, HISTORIAN: Right. I think one of the things that`s
interesting here is that kind of ala cart news, you know, approach, and you
can get the news that you want, the news that most easily conforms to your
world view. But in some ways, that`s not new, kind of a throwback to the
old newspaper eras, the early 20th century and the 19th century, where
people had newspapers, clearly affiliated, the particular political line,
this idea of objectivity in journalism was far from the forefront of what
So, OK, William Randolph Heart, if you run the Heart paper, you have to
take a position, if you`re with the Joseph Pulitzer paper, you`re going to
take the opposite line, and I think people pretty much knew that.
GOODMAN: The lesson is, show the picture, show the images. I mean,
covering movements is covering mainstream America. You look at what
happened during the civil rights movement. It was, you know, remarkable
bravery of the kids in Birmingham, but it was the pictures of what happened
to them, with the water cannons, with the billy clubs that galvanized
And it`s our job to be there, whether it`s in a place where the U.S. is
waging war. Yes, we must show the caskets coming home, not to mention the
people who are considered the enemy also being killed, and also here and
the march on Washington, what is more powerful image? And we have to
remember, also, that it was called the march for jobs and freedom.
GOODMAN: And 50 years later, we have to have that same march. And in
fact, there is going to be that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this idea of showing those -- you know, when you talk
about sort of that sense of changing public opinion that occurred,
especially around the Birmingham children`s the crusade -- and one of the
thing we have been pushing, pushing, pushing on the show are the Moral
Monday protests going on in North Carolina. Because it feels to me, like
if there is any major social movement happening in the country, it is that.
So every single Monday in North Carolina, they`re coming together, it`s
interracial crowds. You can see the police actually arresting peaceful
The crowds are growing every single week. And yet, and maybe because we`ve
seen the march on Washington, maybe because we have some familiarity with
these things, it doesn`t seem to strike the same -- it`s not moving as
quickly, it feels like to me, as those moments around the children`s
GOODMAN: We also have to show the facts on the ground that`s motivating
this. Go back to what Mamie Till taught us. She said in the midst of her
greatest grief, I want Emmett Till, lynched by a white mob in Money,
Mississippi, in 1955, the summer of `55, she said, I want the casket open,
of my little boy, 14 years old. She wanted the world to see the ravages of
racism and the brutality of bigotry.
It was the black publications like "Jet" magazine that took photos of his
distended head. And they were published and they changed this nation,
seared into the history and consciousness of this country.
We`ve got to show the reality, on the ground, of what`s devastating this
country, for example, poverty.
CHIDEYA: But on the one hand, I`m thinking just about the body of Trayvon
Martin, which was published by non-black media, and you know, kind of went
viral on the Internet. And even that, it was like, briefly viral. I don`t
know that we have a sustained attention span in the way that we used to.
And also, the reality is that images can be doctored in ways that they
couldn`t back then. So people -- I don`t know that people even trust
images the way they used to. An image used to be a definitive record.
And of course, you can edit now in post. But we knew what was real in a
way that we don`t necessarily now. Things are constantly audio-sweetened,
visually matched up. You know, O.J. Simpson becomes darker, you know,
So I don`t know there`s the same -- and you look at newspapers now, they`re
firing entire photo divisions and saying that they`re going to -- some of
them, and saying that they`re going to just get freelance images.
HARRIS-PERRY: Who needs a photo journalist when everyone has an iPhone?
CHIDEYA: Right. So I guess a part of it is a question of, is there a will
to deal with the political issues, but also the image culture was at an
apex at the time of the civil rights movement in ways that it`s different
today. An image culture today is more associated with celebrity and with
perfection, air brushing, et cetera. And I think that these very real
images, like the Emmett Till image you`re talking about, that`s a different
-- that`s a different way of framing things that I don`t know would even be
as resonant today.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting is you can still -- I still draw gasps from
audiences when I show lynching photographs, right? So as much as that
maybe images have lost certain types of power, because we all carry in our
pocket, 4,000 pictures, there still are images that the humanity of them is
so intense and so clear, that people experience them.
There is something we do know that papers absolutely can do, and that is to
help us understand our history better, which I want to talk about, as soon
as we get back. As we think about the march on Washington, it is, in fact,
not just about 50 years. Think a hundred years. Go back, go back, go
back, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the march on
Washington, we are taking a look back at what actually led up to that
march. One of the nation`s oldest and most iconic magazines, "The Saturday
Evening Post," covered the issue of civil rights extensively in the 1950s
and `60s, and in nearly every issue in 1963. In its first retrospective
column on the march`s 50th anniversary called "It`s Our Country, Too," "The
Saturday Evening Post" looks at the discrimination that African-American
men faced from the military in enlisting and getting jobs at the defense
plants in the 1940s, before World War II, which almost led to a march on
Washington in 1941.
So talk to me a little bit about this part of the story that we don`t
always know or put at the forefront.
NILSSON: Well, that article, the "It`s Our Country, Too," written by
Walter White for the post, was saying to Roosevelt, in effect, if you say
you have a manpower shortage and you`re going to ignore the African-
Americans in this country, then you`ve only brought it on yourself. But
he`s also saying, it`s time to end this. If you can at least do nothing
else, end the disparity between the wages of white and black workers, and
ultimately, that`s what Roosevelt did by an executive order, with the
agreement by Philip Randolph that we wouldn`t stage that march on
HARRIS-PERRY: In this case, it was a bit lake our current Senate
filibuster, right? It didn`t happen, but the threat of it was significant
for this president, in the context, particularly of international
aggressions and war, to say, "No, don`t do that," and it actually moved
NILSSON: He was concerned we wanted to have a unified look, particularly
going into the war, just like Kennedy was trying to tell Martin Luther
King, don`t do a march, because you`re going to anger white racists. Now`s
time to go slow, now`s the time to be cautious. King said, nope, can`t do
it, at which point, Kennedy turned around and did support.
But, again, it was still pressure from the executive office -- please,
don`t make me look bad.
HARRIS-PERRY: And a reminder of how important the military comes in making
this kind of claim on citizenship, both the willingness to serve in, and so
many men who came back in the interwar period, there were lynchings of
black men in uniform, because if you stand there in uniform, you are
saying, I`m an American and I deserve a certain level of equality here.
COBB: Right. And I think it`s an important kind of point implicit in
this, which is this narrative, the very simplistic narrative we tell
ourselves about racial progress in the United States, especially in the
20th century, that it had to do with changing hearts and minds and this
kind of evolving moral ethic and so on.
But very often, this is about self-interest and about political pragmatism.
That`s how we get that executive order 8802 in 1941. Roosevelt has other
interests. And he does not want black people to conflict with them. This
is how we get the march on Washington and the kind of liberal concessions
that people make, especially in the context of the Cold War. We were just
talking about this.
HARRIS-PERRY: But part of sit a requirement that we believe the press will
report on it. So, part of Randolph`s ability to get those concessions is
the belief, don`t embarrass us. Because the press will report on it,
right? And when they do, we`ll have this both domestic and international
GOODMAN: And I think it`s really important to look at who organized the
march on Washington. You were just talking about Philip Randolph. We`re
talking, it`s Philip Randolph who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car
Porters, said to FDR, describe the condition of working people and black
people in this country and FDR famously said to him, I`m not disagreeing
with you, but you`ve got to make me do it, which has become a watch word
today, and his protege, Bayard Rustin, was just announced on Thursday, he`s
going to be winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
HARRIS-PERRY: My favorite thing that happened.
GOODMAN: Black, gay pacifist. These are the stories that must be told.
HARRIS-PERRY: A out as a black man, out as a gay man, out as a pacifist,
out as a communist, in that moment, and in fact, "Life" magazine, their
cover after the march on Washington isn`t of Dr. King standing there giving
the Dream Speech, it`s of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. That --
they were clearly the architect of this march.
GOODMAN: And you think of -- I mean, Bayard Rustin was close adviser to
Dr. King, but had to keep his distance because of the fear that he would
tarnish King. But you also look at King and this the world of NSA right
now, as soon as you start organizing the Montgomery for the bus boycott, J.
Edgar Hoover had in his sights within a month and was starting to monitor
him and surveil him. We have a lot of lessons to learn.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m convinced, I mean, I`m convinced that this is part of
the difference in the racial reactions to the Snowden and NSA -- you know,
I grew up with the assumption that the government was listening, in part
because I had, you know, parents and uncles who had been involved in the
movement, and because of your point about Hoover, the assumption was -- it
was an ongoing joke about everybody`s FBI file and the idea that folks were
GOODMAN: I said to Harry Belafonte, if you ever forget the numerous
conversations you had with Dr. Martin Luther King, like everyday for 10
years, just apply them to the Freedom of Information Act.
If you forget them, don`t worry. Somebody`s got a transcript.
I appreciate so much all of you being here. Before we go, I just want to
listen, in case folks don`t know, A. Philip Randolph, if you`ve never had a
chance to see him or hear him, when we come back, we`re going to talk to
some extraordinary foot soldiers.
Farai Chideya and Jeff Nilsson and Amy Goodman and Jelani Cobb are leaving
the table. We`ve got some amazing people who have been doing work in
Newtown, Connecticut, when we come back. But I do want you to listen to A.
Philip Randolph as we go to break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was in your mind when you conceived of this
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH: Well, Mr. Gronski (ph), we had in mind the idea of
building a massive thrust, in the interesting of awakening and arousing the
conscience of the nation on the issue of civil rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Our foot soldiers of the week are helping to bring healing
and joy in the wake of tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
With the help of 1214 Foundation, which was formed after the shooting at
Sandy Hook Elementary School, 80 kids from ages 5 to 18 are performing
"Seussical the Musical" this weekend at Newtown high school. This isn`t an
ordinary production. Guidance and training from several Broadway
professionals, like Tony Award nominated actor John Tartaglia.
Tell me. That was right, oh, good!
The goal is to support the healing process from young people who families
are affected by the December 14th tragedy and to honor the memory of those
20 children and six educators who lost their lives.
Joining me now is the founder of 1214, Michael Baroody, who is the
acclaimed, and also, the acclaimed Broadway actor, John Tartaglia. And
Newtown High School student, Claire Alexander, who is starring in this
Thank you all for being here.
Tell me about the 12/14 Foundation.
MICHAEL BAROODY, FOUNDER, 1214 FOUNDATION: Well, the 1214 Foundation
started approximately a month after the event, after waking up from this
horrible tragedy. The thought is that there is no words to describe what
happened. There`s got to be other ways to get this out and to express
I feel there`s a couple of different ways. One is through architecture.
There needs to be a representation of what happened about this. The world
is not OK with what happened, and there`s creative architecture that can do
that. The way you feel when you walk into a building that`s been built for
a purpose is profound. There`s no description of that.
The second is performing arts itself can help kids express themselves in a
way that`s unique to them. It gives them confidence and self-awareness and
understanding of themselves. So, the combination of those things through a
performing arts center will basically accomplish what we want to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: They don`t always have the vocabulary to speak in
sophisticated terms about the feelings they`re having in the wake of a
tragedy like this.
BAROODY: Right. We`re looking at a school of the performing arts. They
need to commit and have responsibilities and build themselves from the
inside out. And one of the ways that we`re going to do that is bring in
incredible people like John Tartaglia.
So, once you have someone that you admire and look up to and work with that
person, you can say, I can be that person. You know, all of a sudden, your
perspective changes. It`s going to tell yourself that you can do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: John, my daughter for fourth grade did the musical. I said
tune in at the end. I wanted her to see there`s a Broadway person
connected with this thing. This idea of this isn`t just a small school
performance. This is a life opening big kind of ideal. Why did you want
to be involved?
JOHN TARTAGLIA, TONY NOMINATED ACTOR: Well, I mean, I think that like a
lot of people when the events happened on December 14th, I felt very
helpless. And I felt like there were something I wanted to do. I know
that there was something I wanted to put myself towards, besides just the
monetary conversations I wanted to do something.
So, when I got the call it was like often times as an actor I don`t want to
do this project or that project, it was literally this cathartic instinct,
yes, you know, because I wanted to make a tribute and playing the cat in
the hat, he`s like the leader that keeps everything together. I thought
working with these kids I feel like I get to be the one that pushes for the
It`s been -- you know, it`s also a role I`ve wanted to play. What better
way to play it than something that will do something so positive for the
HARRIS-PERRY: Claire, what role are you playing?
CLAIRE ALEXANDER, STARRING "SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL": I`m playing the Lady
La Bird (ph).
HARRIS-PERRY: Some of the vocal solos for that part are amazing. Tell me
the extent to which you`re experiencing some of what these goals were
ALEXANDER: For the show?
ALEXANDER: I`ve always loved musical theater. My goal was to because
Mayzie is a character in Dr. Seuss my goal was to really bring Mayzie, the
character, to life. Give the kids who are coming to see the show say, oh,
wow, that`s Mayzie.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s several sort of Dr. Seuss stories that`s part of it
and one of the important ones is "Horton Hears a Who". So, parents and
children know that`s about the tiniest life mattering, the smallest person
Did you all talk actively as a cast about that?
TARTAGLIA: Very much. There`s a lyric that gets repeated a lot is a
person`s a person no matter how small. I remember seeing the show on
Broadway 13 years ago and thinking, wow, what a wonderful show and it was a
beautiful message. I think it`s heartfelt.
Now, look at it from this perspective all of us get quiet and there`s kind
of goose bumps with everybody during that lyric. Last night during the
opening night, feeling the audience take that in was emotional. So,
certain things that Dr. Seuss wrote it`s almost like he knew we were going
to need it for this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it does take on a specific meaning in the context of
Newtown that a person`s a person no matter how small.
Give me one last thought on this.
BAROODY: I mean, it`s just very important. Michael Unger is the director
and he focused on having the performers, and they`re ages from 5 years old
to 18 years old, to not really be acting but be in the part and that`s
actually allowing them to express themselves. Claire is not trying to be a
Mayzie. It`s Claire being herself within that role. That`s what`s making
it more are rand more powerful.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m sure you`re amazing Mayzie.
BAROODY: She is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for the work you`re doing. Thank you to Michael
and John and to Claire.
And thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow
morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`re going to take a look at the poll
showing 40 percent white Americans have white friends. Come on, y`all,
make friends with us. And we`re going to see what W. Kamal Bell has to say
But right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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