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Listeners Weigh In On 'Tanning Of America'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for BackTalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get to hear from you, our listeners.

Ammad Omar is with me. He is an editor. He is the newest member of our TELL ME MORE team and although he's new to us, he's not new to journalism or to public radio. He's a veteran journalist. He's been working most recently at WBEZ in Chicago. We're very glad to have you.

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So just a moment ago, we were talking about comic book superheroes. We were talking about the New York Comic Con convention which is meeting up there. I understand we have an update on a self-styled real life superhero.

OMAR: We do, Michel. Back in March, we spoke with Phoenix Jones. He calls himself a real life superhero and takes to the streets in costume to fight crime, but ironically, Phoenix Jones was arrested in his hometown of Seattle last weekend. He allegedly used pepper spray on a group of people. Jones claims he was trying to break up a fight, but the victims say there was no fight at all and the police say the pepper spraying was assault.

MARTIN: The Seattle Times report said Jones has vowed to, quote, "continue to patrol with my team, probably tonight," unquote. Ammad, anything else?

OMAR: Yeah. On Monday, we talked about Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She ran for re-election. The vote was on Tuesday. At this point, we've got some early returns and they show she's leading, but she'll likely face a runoff against the party founded by African soccer legend George Weah, also known as King George to his fans. And the man whose endorsement could decide the race is the man currently in third place. His name is Prince Johnson. He's a former warlord who gained infamy for videotaping himself drinking a beer while his men cut off the ears of Liberia's ex-president Samuel Doe.

MARTIN: Okay. We also have an update on another election. Listeners might remember our story about a controversy within the Cherokee Nation. That's the second largest Native American tribe in the U.S. The tribe had stripped citizenship from a number of so-called Freedmen. Those are African-Americans who are descendents of slaves who were once held by the Cherokee.

As we talked about the Cherokee's Tribal Supreme Court (unintelligible) ballot on Tuesday, the Cherokee announced that their new chief will be Bill John Baker. He's a longtime tribal councilman. The Los Angeles Times reports that Baker's election was cheered by some Freedmen who consider him at least more sympathetic to their cause than Chad Smith, the man he defeated.

OMAR: Now, Michel, we have some listener feedback from our stories this week. On Tuesday, guest host Tony Cox spoke with the author Steve Stoute about his new book called "The Tanning of America." It's about how hip-hop has influenced big business. He defended a lot of the materialism that you hear in hip-hop music.

STEVE STOUTE: There's something about people who notoriously come from nothing. If you are oppressed, materialistic items are badges to say: I've made it. A lot of brands have built their entire fan base because of hip-hop, but I don't see anybody being exploited unless you start avoiding the real conversation, which is saying that these guys have done work that has benefited your property.

OMAR: Well, one of our listeners, Ebony Russell, does see some real harm in that bling culture promoted by hip-hop. She wrote on our website, quote, "millions of youth without parents or role model are taken in by a lifestyle that promotes a misguided fantasy. Artists and advertisers alike make money from kids who go out and try to live the life that they illustrate in their music, from buying Adidas to Cristal to spinners to diamonds and more meaningless treasures that, at the end of the day, only land them in debt," unquote.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that, Ebony, and thank you, Ammad. And once again, welcome. Glad to have you.

OMAR: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave us your name. You can also find us on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE, NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Ammad Omar
Ammad Omar oversees coverage of the western United States for NPR, and serves as the editorial lead at NPR West in Culver City, California.