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Are We Better Off Being More Connected In A Tragedy?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. He's with us from WCPN in Cleveland. Here in our Washington, D.C. studios, freelance journalist Corey Dade and Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation. Also back with us, Dr. Neil Minkoff. He's a former practicing physician. He's now a health care consultant. He's also a contributor to the conservative National Review magazine. He was with us earlier in the program. We're glad he stayed with us.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

COREY DADE: Hey, Jimi.

NEIL MINKOFF: We're doing it.

DAVE ZIRIN: What's up, man?

IZRAEL: Hey, Nick - or Neil. I'm sorry. I always want to call you Dr. Nick. Neil, it's good to hear from you.

MINKOFF: Thank you. Thank you. You know, that was - my nickname at my old job was Dr. Nick, so it would have been totally cool.

MARTIN: Dr. Nick.

IZRAEL: Good. Good to know.

MARTIN: Well, at least it wasn't Dr. Quinn, medicine...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, I was scared for a minute. OK.

IZRAEL: All right, everybody. You know, it's been kind of a tough week. The entire region around Boston was shut down today as law enforcement worked to close the case on the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this week.

MARTIN: You know, and we talked about this earlier in the program and Dr. Neil was with us earlier in the program. He's at his home in a suburb of Boston, which is where citizens have been asked to stay, but one of the things that, you know, Neil, I could not help but think about - the fact that - don't you usually go? Or did you guys go this year? You and your family actually did go to the marathon this year because it was day off from school.

MINKOFF: Well, we go every year. My wife is a big runner. She's run it before and part of the running community here worked for a running shoe company. I didn't go this year. I had to reconfigure my schedule and ended up working, but my wife and children went and were sitting in the bleachers directly across from the site of the first blast, but left about - I don't know - shortly before the blast went off. So that's actually how I heard the news. My wife called me, started, like, calling me, you know, over and over and over again, so I stopped what I was doing and picked up.

And she was calling to tell me that they were safe and they were in the car on their way home, but that, you know, horrible things were happening and, you know, shortly thereafter, I don't know if it's because I was in the suburbs or - and the grid was working, as opposed to Boston. But I was just inundated with phone calls of people saying, you know, I can't find my wife. I can't find my kids. They were with your wife. Do you know where everybody is? And it was - it was very - you know, it was scary and panicky, but it was also very surreal, like this is the kind of thing that you see on television. This doesn't really happen to people, does it? So it was the whole gamut.

MARTIN: I can imagine.


MARTIN: Neil, lesson here. Always take the call from the wife.

MINKOFF: Always take it.

MARTIN: Just thought I'd share that to the...

IZRAEL: Always.

MARTIN: ...married men in the house. Anyway - well, we're certainly glad you're all OK and, of course, we continue to think very hard and give our best wishes to everyone affected by this emotionally, physically, psychologically. We're all thinking about you.

IZRAEL: That's right, Michel. You know, when I was - I'm observing a lot of the reporting around the Boston Marathon incident and, Corey Dade, you can probably relate to this, maybe differently, though. But I remember when there was a hostage siege over at Case Western Reserve University back in 2006 where Professor Halder took the whole - basically, Case Western's community by hostage by holding these people in the building. They, of course, got him.

But what I'm saying is there was all this false reporting that came out early on. There was - people were saying there were six hostage takers. They were saying there were 11 hostages and there seemed to be a rush for media to get it out quickly and not get it out right.

DADE: Right.

IZRAEL: You used to work for the Boston Globe. What's your take on all this, man?

DADE: Well, I think, for starters, the pressure that news organizations, especially television and digital organizations, have to get it right and get it first is enormous and, you know, if these men, in fact, are the suspects behind these bombings, I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is, you know, so much for the dark-skinned man as the suspect.

So, from there, you have a few different things. I mean, CNN unfortunately has not had a banner reporting period. They also not only reported that, but they also reported that the home address of one of the suspects, which is a big no-no in journalism.


DADE: They also reported that the Boston's Logan Airport had been closed, had been shut down, which prompted the airport to quickly tweet that that is not the case, that CNN is actually wrong. So, you know, viewers, readers need to really understand that, when information is flowing immediately, almost in real time now in this sort of digital news culture, a lot potentially can be wrong, unfortunately.

IZRAEL: Dave Zirin.

ZIRIN: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean, you saw how this went, man. Before the FBI identified the suspects, so many outlets made the wrong call. You know, they talked about two guys - you know, calling them bag men. They didn't have anything to do with it.

ZIRIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: So how should journalism - how does journalists balance the drive to get it first with the need to get it right?

ZIRIN: Well, always the need to get it right needs to stand ahead of the need to get it first. And I think also people listening right now need to turn the channel when CNN is on. They need to not buy the New York Post. News organizations I think should have to suffer for getting things so terribly wrong. And I think that what CNN did this week was an absolute atrocity. It should be taught in journalism classes. I mean what John King said as far as dark skinned males, I mean to put that out there in such a blatant way, I mean actually puts people's lives at risk. I mean people have to realize that in times like this when emotions are high, when hate crimes become something that could be, something that flows from this kind of coverage, there has to be actually more responsibility. There has to be more forethought. There has to be actually more reserve on behalf of people we look to for information. So I mean I was very disturbed by what took place this week.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. I understand where you're feeling and I think everybody feels this way. I would assume that, you know, everybody feels this way. But having been in a situation where you're going live, you're on live, you've been on the air for hours, you've got an earpiece, you've got somebody talking into your ear, you've got people, you know, nobody who is on the air right now is on the air alone. You've got lots of people talking to you. And, you know, I'm not making excuses for putting wrong information out there that can be dangerous, but it also, I just feel I have to say, as a person who's been in that situation where I have been on the receiving end of wrong information and felt under a lot of pressure to put it out there, you'd like to think that you're big enough and you're tough enough and you're strong enough to say no to your boss if it's your boss on the other end of it, but, you know...

DADE: Michel?

MARTIN: ...but for the grace of God, go a lot of us. That's all I have to say about that.

DADE: Michel?


DADE: I think it's a tightrope. It's a tightrope, especially if you're on air in real time. In this case though with John King, he was not actually on the air at the time. He came on with this report.

MARTIN: Right.

DADE: He wasn't anchoring that segment. So there was potentially a moment where he could have taken a pause.

MARTIN: Well, can I just ask about this? And maybe this seems small and in contrast to all the other things we're talking about. But Dave, I am, just as a sports guy, I mean you've written about the Boston Marathon. You write about big events like this.

ZIRIN: Sure.

MARTIN: Do you think that this - how will we feel about this event in the future? Does - I know it's a little soon to be talking about this. But you think there's so many big sporting events that people look forward to in the summer, really throughout the year. It's kind of what we do, so...

ZIRIN: Two big points on this, Michel.


ZIRIN: Two big takeaway points. The first is, I have a friend from Vietnam who always says to me, don't forget that my country is a country and not a war. In other words, we have to know that the Boston Marathon is something with a rich tradition that goes back to 1897. It contains a brilliant tapestry of stories and we cannot let it be defined by what happened this week. Definitely, it's a scar that will exist forever on the Boston Marathon, but we have to look at it like say, we would look at a scar on our own face. We wouldn't want that to define us in its entirety, but we do have to recognize its existence. That's the first thing.

The second thing is I do think also we have to realize that something was lost earlier this week. And I really don't think despite the optimistic predictions of others that it's going to come back. The Boston Marathon is the most open mass sporting event on Earth: 500,000 people watching, over 20,000 people from 96 countries run this race. It's so open. It's so communitarian. It's global. And my concern for next year - and believe me, the wheels on this are already in motion - is that watching the Boston Marathon, it's going to be more like what the Olympics are like before they start. And I've been to a lot of Olympic cities before the start of the games and those are cities on lock down. You feel safe.

Like when I was in London, I felt "safe" in quotes. I also felt watched constantly. It wasn't a pleasant kind of feeling. And that's what I think is going to change.

MARTIN: Did you feel like you could just go and just be part of the city? It's like part of the fabric of the city. And is that something that just disappeared?

ZIRIN: Yeah. That's something that absolutely disappeared.

MARTIN: Neil, can I ask you this? I know it's early, but do you think that - forgive me. I'm not holding you to this. This is not a gotcha question. But do you think that you could go again and feel OK about being there?

MINKOFF: I'm definitely going.


MINKOFF: I mean I'm sure going to be scared out of my mind and I don't, you know, I am not putting this on anybody else but, you know, the people I know affiliated with the marathon or the different hospitals that that all race teams are all inundated with questions about how do I get more involved next year.

DADE: Mm-hmm.

MINKOFF: And there does seem to be this tremendous feeling of resolve that the marathon is ours. It is a big part of the city. It is a huge secular holiday here. And there's this resolve to not let it be ruined. You know, I was at the New York Marathon shortly after 9/11 and there was that sense of determination in the air that this is, you know, the New York Marathon and the mayor was very clear that nothing could deter the city from having the marathon. And I expect next Patriots' Day to feel exactly the same way here.

MARTIN: We are having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with culture critic Jimi Izrael, sports editor Dave Zirin, freelance journalist Corey Dade, and National Review contributor Neil Minkoff, coming to us from Boston.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK, moving on to the movies. "42," the Jackie Robinson biography...

ZIRIN: Now that's a segue.


IZRAEL: ...had the highest grossing opening weekend of any baseball flick in history. Here's a clip from the trailer.



CHADWICK BOSEMAN: (as Jackie Robinson) You want a player that doesn't have the guts to fight back?

HARRISON FORD: (as Branch Rickey) No, I want a player who's got the guts not to fight back.

BOSEMAN: (as Jackie Robinson) You give me a uniform. You give me a number on my back. I'll give you the guts.



MARTIN: That's your...

IZRAEL: That's Harrison Ford playing Brooklyn Dodgers boss, Branch Rickey and big screen newcomer Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. Reviews have been mixed. The LA Times called it a solid shot but no homerun. I call it a great - I mean it's a good baseball film but it doesn't have anything to do with race.


IZRAEL: You know, I love these new crop of race films post the film - I'm sorry, the 2006 film "Crash" where there is thin veneer that the story is about black people and race, but what it actually is about is about the heroism of white people struggling to overcome their own racism. And for me, that's what "42" was about. It's not Jackie's story. It's really the story of Branch Rickey and his struggle to make a buck, also his struggle maybe to rein in maybe his own personal racisms and the racisms of those around him.

DZ, Dave Zirin, you wrote a column with your take. Check in, bro.

ZIRIN: Yeah. I wasn't a fan of the film. I love the fact that it was made. Let me be clear about that. And I absolutely can understand why the Robinson family is supporting the film. It's a lovely tribute to the struggle of Jackie Robinson. The problem with it is that it treats Jackie Robinson like he's Frodo Baggins in a baseball uniform.


IZRAEL: Yeah, it's not his story.

ZIRIN: It's not his story. What it is, it's the classic - it might as well be "Die Hard." I mean I wanted "Raging Bull" and I got "Rocky III." Because Jackie Robinson's story is incredibly intense. It involves huge social upheavals. It involves some of the mass social upheavals of their time, everything from the Great Depression of the '30s, to World War II, to the civil rights movement. And instead, you got this sliver of a two year period that told the story in classical Hollywood style: Man has obstacle. Man overcomes obstacle. Everybody cheers. Segregation. Integration. Celebration. And that's just not the story.

MARTIN: So you wanted "Reds."

IZRAEL: You're being generous. You're being generous. The...

MARTIN: He wanted "Reds." He wanted...

IZRAEL: This is really...

ZIRIN: No I did not.


IZRAEL: Of a great white guy who helps of good black man be greater. That's really what this is about.

MARTIN: Interesting.

ZIRIN: It's "Dances with Baseballs."

MARTIN: Oh stop it.


MINKOFF: Well, can I...

IZRAEL: Dr. Minkoff? Dr. Minkoff? Check in, bro.

MARTIN: I keep - I've lost track. Go ahead.

MINKOFF: I mean the issue I have is the issue I have with a lot of biopics, and it's similar to what we were just saying, they're so formulaic. And I felt like, you know, I felt like at no point did I not know what was going to happen next. You know, I mean and to your point, you know, I felt like it was a lot like the Johnny Cash story and except, you know, all that changes is what is the obstacle that is being overcome? And I did think it was significantly downplayed. So, you know, it was OK.

IZRAEL: Yeah. It's...

MINKOFF: I just didn't feel like it was any great tribute.

IZRAEL: It's about as historically accurate as "Django Unchained," may be more so or less. I don't know. Corey Dade?

MINKOFF: I liked "Django."

MARTIN: You guys are such snobs. Go ahead. Go ahead.


MARTIN: You all are such film snobs, which is OK. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but...

DADE: Yeah. I'm going to do what I usually don't do with movies.

IZRAEL: Uh-oh.

DADE: The vanilla here was actually tasty. And I don't mean that racially. I mean that literally on taste. It was not complex. It was pretty basic. It was formulaic. But I think the bottom line is this story needed to be told. And in telling it you create potentially a dialogue, you bring Jackie Robinson's story and the historic significance of his trials and tribulations to a new generation.

I think what was interesting is the movie also looked at whites taking other whites to task, and that's a key thing. When you think about sort of any sort of progress in race relations - whether it's sort of ending segregation up till now, the sort of the unspoken and almost, you know, sort of unchartered territory is when whites take other whites to task about their views about race. It's always black people taking other black people or black people taking whites to task. So I liked the fact that the movie did that.

The other thing, as a journalist, I'm going to say I loved the fact that Wendell Smith was in there.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right.

DADE: Wendell Smith had a very important point. What people don't realize is that Branch Rickey didn't just, you know, the movie is fictitious OK, it's based on a true story. Branch Rickey didn't just pluck Jackie Robinson's file out of a stack of manila folders. Wendell Smith brought Jackie Robinson, his name, to Branch Rickey. And Wendell Smith was the journalist. He was his Bosley. He was Jackie Robinson's Bosley in the movie. But he played a larger role because, you know, I think there was a point in the movie when Wendell Smith confronts Jackie Robinson and says, this is bigger than you. I am looking for integration into the baseball writer's sort of fraternity, as it were. So he was a trailblazer. And I will be glad to say that as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, we just posthumously inducted Wendell Smith into our Hall of Fame.

MARTIN: So what you're saying that it's not perfect. It may be formulaic but there are nuggets there.

DADE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And there are things that people can learn from it. I think it was really interesting.

ZIRIN: I got to say...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Dave.

ZIRIN: For all my critiques of it, and they are ample, particularly from a historical accuracy perspective, I have a dear friend who is an African-American high school teacher in Washington, D.C. with an African-American student body and he is thrilled with the film, thrilled with being able to show it to his class, thrilled because of its ability to in a very formulaic vanilla way, present the story to young people.

DADE: And to start a conversation.


ZIRIN: And to start the conversation. I'm just telling you what he said. Don't shoot the messenger on that one.

IZRAEL: I'll tell you what. If he really wants to start the story...

MARTIN: You guys don't want a movie. You want a Smithsonian exhibit.


ZIRIN: I want "Raging Bull."

DADE: That's right.

IZRAEL: No. No. If you really want to see a Jackie Robinson movie, get "The Jackie Robinson Story" from 1950. He's actually in that movie. And that is a film about the players and not about, you know, the great white people that helped the great black people be even greater.

MARTIN: All right, sourpuss.


ZIRIN: Yeah, Ruby Dee as his wife in "The Jackie Robinson Story."

MARTIN: I guess we know where you won't be this Saturday night. But thank you, all of you, for joining us. Neil, stay safe up there. We're thinking about you.

MINKOFF: Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic, and sourpuss.


MARTIN: He's an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He was with us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Neil Minkoff is a doctor turned health care consultant, a contributor to the National Review, with us from his home near Boston. You know why. Here in Washington, D.C., freelance journalist Corey Dade, Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, host of Sirius XM Radio's "Edge of Sports Radio."

Thank you all so much.

DADE: Thank you.

ZIRIN: Thank you.

MINKOFF: Thanks.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast, that's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.