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Letterman Lets It Go


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

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of themuslimguy.com, with us from Chicago. Health care consultant and contributor to National Review magazine, Neil Minkoff is with us from Boston. And right here in Washington, D.C., TELL ME MORE editor, Ammad Omar. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. The family's all here. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?


NEIL MINKOFF: I'm all right.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: What's cracking?

IZRAEL: Oh, man, it's crack-a-lackin. Let's get it started. NFL player, DeSean Jackson, was released from the Philadelphia Eagles this week. Oh, Sharkeisha. Some people were surprised 'cause he's such a good player, but his stats could not save him. Man, he has fans in the city and even in Hollywood. And the film, "Silver Linings Playbook," Bradley Cooper, my dog, his character talks about Jackson in a scene with his shrink. Let's drop that clip.


BRADLEY COOPER: (As Pat) My mom got this Gap outfit she wants me to wear, but I want to wear a jersey that my brother Jake got me from the Eagles.

ANUPAM KHER: (As Dr. Patel) Which jersey?

COOPER: DeSean Jackson.

KHER: DeSean Jackson is the man.

MARTIN: There it is.

IZRAEL: Wow. Well, just like Cooper's character, Jackson has some issues as it turns out. Team sources say he's a diva and hint that he has gang ties. Wow, he sounds like George Bush, #skullandbones.

MARTIN: What? Oh, what? What?

IZRAEL: Dr. Neil, the Eagles cited Jackson's character issues for the release. Is that code for being a jerk?

MINKOFF: It sounds like it. I mean, look, the NFL has become a league of guilt by association and that has only gotten worse since the Aaron Hernandez scandal appeared in my own backyard in the Boston area. The fact is that we don't exactly know what that means. NFL teams make decisions for secret reasons, much like the skull and bones gang you just referenced.

IZRAEL: Right?

MINKOFF: It could be that he's a diva. It could be they didn't want to spend that much money and they're going to try to bring somebody else in. The gang stuff is just rumors, although, I love what Richard Sherman did defending DeSean Jackson. And I have to say that if Jackson's ties were that bad and it was that much of a red flag, he would have been unemployed for more than 48 hours.

IZRAEL: Right. Thank you, Dr. Neil for bringing that around for the people at home. A-train, Arsalan Iftikhar, you know, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks came to Jackson's defense saying he's not a bad person just because his childhood friends might be gang members. What do you say?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I agree with him. I think I'm going to go from one Cooper, Bradley, in "Silver Linings Playbook" to another Cooper, Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles, who we all remember. Another wide receiver who was caught on video at a Kenny Chesney concert dropping the N-word several times. And he was rewarded by the Philadelphia Eagles by getting a 5-year, $25 million contract.

And he was guilty of something and it was caught on video. Here, as Neil Minkoff pointed out, DeSean Jackson is only guilty by association. And so for me, it's going to be interesting because DeSean is now going to an NFC East rival in the Washington team name that will remain nameless, but gets to play his former team twice a year, and so I hope that DeSean Jackson gets the last laugh.

IZRAEL: Well, are we...

MARTIN: Can I just ask you this, Arsalan? Let me ask Arsalan this though...


MARTIN: ...'Cause this whole - I remember we reported on this - a school that's interesting in Chicago that one of our member stations did some deep dive reporting on this issue earlier in the year. And the police officers, the school safety officers used to say things like look, if you were an athlete, you know, back in the day, the gangs would leave you alone.

These days there is no immunization. There is no way. If you live in a neighborhood where there's a heavy gang presence, you've got to make your peace with it or you are going down. And so the idea that somehow you can immunize yourself from this just by being a good kid...


MARTIN: ...And keeping your nose clean - I just wanted to ask you since you're back home in Chicago if you think that's true?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I think that's absolutely true and I think you hit the nail on the head, Michel. And let's be honest, you know, all of us guys here in the Barbershop, we probably all know some shady characters, but that doesn't necessarily mean that that should impute on our character.

MARTIN: Don't talk about Jimi like that.

IZRAEL: Look man, some of my best friends are still Crippin' (ph). I don't - I'm not mad at them. Well, what? What am I going to do? You know, say, listen to more NPR?

MARTIN: Well, the question is - cut your ties to them. I mean, that's what the argument would be, that you just, you know, shut them off. That's the argument that if you're going to move into a different life, that that's what you have to do.

OMAR: Richard is...

IFTIKHAR: It's duplicitous of the Eagles to, you know, cite this bad behavior and then reward Riley Cooper who dropped the N-word on video with a 5-year, $25 million contract.

OMAR: And Richard Sherman...

MARTIN: What about Ammad?

OMAR: Yeah, this is Ammad. Richard Sherman, who you guys were just talking about - first of all, it's not too common for a Stanford alum to come to the defense of a Cal guy, 'cause they're bitter rivals, so I give that a little bit of weight. But, you know, he made the point that it's a lot easier said than done that you can just disassociate yourselves with your friends.

And if you grew up in a place like South Central LA where both of them did, you know, once you get rich and make it, you're just going to stop being friends with the people who were there for you? You know, DeSean Jackson, I believe it was his father that passed away, and Richard Sherman talked about how these guys were all there for him. And, you know, what are you going to do? You're going to tell the kids back home that you grew up with that you're going to disassociate yourself with them now just because you're an adult?

So it's interesting. You know, the thing that was interesting to me was the NJ.com story where this first came up and they cited sources within the organization. And the organization hasn't really come out on the record and said these things, but it seems like they've kind of floated these rumors out to members of the press. And then within an hour of that article hitting the website, he was cut. So it seems like some sort of cover for the organization possibly, you know, from the looks of it.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We are joined by editor Ammad Omar, that's who was speaking just now. Also with us, writer Jimi Izrael, professor Arsalan Iftikhar and National Review contributor Neil Minkoff. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, late night host David Letterman dropped a stunner last night. He'll say sayonara this year after three decades behind the desk. Letterman said it was time for him to retire because, you know, when the birds are on the brain, well, let's just drop that clip.


DAVID LETTERMAN: So I get home that night and I'm talking to my wife, Regina, and she said, well, how was work? And I said, oh, well, we think we identified the bird. We called the Audubon Society. I called our friends in Montana. We finally came to the conclusion in fact, it's an immature Bald Eagle. And she says that's great. Who was on the show?

MARTIN: Well, just a - just a set up to that is he was talking about going bird watching with his son. So it was actually a very sweet moment.

IZRAEL: That is very sweet. Thank you, Michel. You know, I'm going to miss him. He really - the great - the bulk of his appeal is that we all have a Letterman in our life. You know, we all know that crazy uncle, that cynical dad or, you know, the not so crazy just cynical uncle, you know? And, well, also, he also hired the best writing talent in the business, which is why, my opinion, host of color, I think that's why that kind of success has alluded them to the Magic's, the Arsenio's, the other hosts of color.

They can't pay for the kind of writing talent that Letterman had and I'm going to miss him. I'm going to look to see who's going to take his place. My guess, Craig Ferguson. I think he gets first writer refusal. Neil Minkoff, is it time for - is it time for him to sign off anyway?

MINKOFF: Well, the thing that I - there are a couple of things that I think are really interesting. One is that these shows don't - these late night shows don't have the sort of cultural significance that they had even when Letterman made that transition. I mean, I think the reason that Jimmy Fallon has done so well is that his show is structured as much as a way to create bits that can go viral on the Internet, where we all really access media these days, as it is about sitting down at 11:30 to watch a television show.

And I think that's what escaped Leno and Letterman and some of the more traditional hosts is that they were doing a show that was in structure, really not different then Johnny Carson was doing in the '70s, and that the structure has been what's kind of fallen behind rather than the talent of either of them as hosts or comedians. I think it's an issue about the evolving media and keeping up with things that need to hit the Internet.

IZRAEL: Arsalan, who should replace him?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, there are a lot of interesting names that are being floated out there. Obviously some names are Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, it would be great to get some diversity up in this piece, Conan O'Brien who needs to get back off of cable and back onto network TV. Somebody like Louis CK or Jerry Seinfeld. Some female names are Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chelsea Handler and, of course, you know, the obvious name is Jay Leno because he's unemployed and we know that he gets ratings.

MARTIN: I didn't know he was a female name, that's news to me.


IZRAEL: Breaking news.

MARTIN: What a bold choice. Ammad, what do you think?

OMAR: Yeah, no. I just spoke with Brad Adgate over at Horizon Media, they look at all the numbers that the shows bring in. And it was really interesting because 10 years ago, Letterman was getting about 7.3 million viewers a night. Now that number's down to 2.7 million.


OMAR: So that's about a third of the audience. And actually, Jimmy Kimmel is not too far behind him and Fallon is doing better. And aside from those numbers, like Neil mentioned, you know, the real cultural significant in late night shows these days are the ones on Comedy Central, Stewart and Colbert. So, you know, I think he's had a great run. You've got to respect anybody that's been in the business for that long. But just - it is a business and when you look at the numbers, I can see how this makes sense.

MARTIN: It's seems like this is very much his choice though.

OMAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean, it seems as though this was his choice. I mean, one of the things about CBS is they seem to respect the older audience more than some of the other networks do. Now, I don't know whether that's a choice or - is that a business decision or is that just the reality?

But there doesn't seem to be that same inclination to give their more mature talent the whole heave-ho. And so he seems to be - this seems to be his choice, which is kind of a great thing to do because the bulk of that broadcast audience is still going to be your older viewer and they don't appreciate this. I mean, they might live with it, but they don't love this idea that, you know, even if you're successful, you just get kind of thrown over the side, so.

OMAR: And that's the other problem with Letterman's numbers. Even though it might be his choice, the age of his audience is actually growing older and older too. It's getting smaller and getting older and that's not good math for the advertisers.

MARTIN: OK. All right, I think obviously it seems to me the logical choice is Stephen Colbert, doesn't it? Simply for, you know, the corporate ties, the ownership of the network and that kind of edgy sensibility. So we'll see.

MINKOFF: Or Stewart.

MARTIN: Or Stewart.

IZRAEL: I don't know. I wonder if that edgy sensibility will play well on network television, Michel?

MARTIN: I think that's always the interesting question. I mean, you remember Bill Maher started out on network television...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...And then moved to cable where he was mad about it at the time, but seems to have been really released because for one thing, there aren't the language barriers that there are still, few though they may be remaining. And I think that, you know, even though he was annoyed, he was kind of released to kind of really do the kind of humor that he wants to do...

OMAR: Definitely.

MARTIN: ...Being on cable. So that's the interesting question. All right, so let's keep it moving, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Well, as it happens, some people think it's time for Tiger Woods to retire. He announced he's sitting out the Masters over a bad back. Awe. Ammad, I know you're a golfer and I've swung a club or two and you need a decent back to do it, bro...

OMAR: Yeah, backs are important.

IZRAEL: ...Man, but should Tiger hang it up?

OMAR: No, he shouldn't hang it up, man. I mean, worst-case scenario, if this guy never wins another golf tournament in his life, he's the second best golfer of all time. So, you know, all that people care about is whether he will catch Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors. He's at 14. For 10 years we can watch every Major and if he - he hasn't won one in six years, but that doesn't lower the drama of him missing one this year.

And so it's going to be the next 10, 15 years, we're going to see if he can tick off four Majors somehow. He's still the world's number one golf player according to the rankings. And he's entering his 677 week as the world number one, which is 13 years. I say let the guy retire on his own terms.

MARTIN: Yeah, I'm curious, is this a guy thing though, this idea that you're supposed to retire before you start to - you know, you should retire at your peak so that everybody can remember you when you're young? Is that a guy thing? Seriously?

IFTIKHAR: No, I think...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan. I think it's a sports thing. You know, we all want to see our heroes leave at the top of their game. And...

MARTIN: Who wants to? Why? Why do you want to? Just let them do their thing.

IFTIKHAR: Again, what I'm saying, Michel, is that that has not translated out into reality as we've seen with Magic Johnson's 14 comebacks, you know, after his retirement. I think Larry Bird was the only...

MINKOFF: MJ with the Wizards.

IFTIKHAR: ...MJ who had a 4A in Major League Baseball. And, at going Ammad's point, you know, golf is one of the few sports where you can win into your 50s and 60s.

OMAR: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: You know, it's not like...

OMAR: Especially now.

IFTIKHAR: Right, it's not like basketball, football or baseball, where, you know, people retire by 35, 37, maybe 40 if they're stretching it. So I think Tiger has plenty of time to come back after his back surgery.

MARTIN: All right, Neil, can I - let me just try this theory out on you if you don't mind.


MARTIN: Is it that men are somehow - they're disturbed by watching their heroes become less able, whereas women, you know, women support older women in the marketplace. It is like if you go out like in Hollywood and all these things, I mean, the big complaint is that older women do not get enough roles. And when they get them, the women come out to support them. They're like, hey, you know, that's my theory.

OMAR: I think the technical term is haters going to hate. Sorry.


MINKOFF: I hear your point...

MARTIN: What do you think, Neil?

MINKOFF: I hear your point. I think it's an interesting question. I think there is a difference there though between Hollywood and sports where we'll still go see Clint Eastwood try to be a tough guy or the Expendables be tough guys in their 60s and 70s.

I think that in sport, when you see diminishing returns and people's skill level start to wane as they age, it actually is a, not to get too deep here or anything, a horrible reminder of how limited the careers are. And it's actually a reminder - it's a parable from mortality, really, that we see them being diminished on the screen and they were so much better than us and now they're not as good as they were. What does that say about us as we age? It's actually very depressing.

MARTIN: I knew Neil would rise to the occasion. Thank you, Neil.


MARTIN: That thought...

IZRAEL: Salutes.

MARTIN: ...So we had a couple of minutes left. And this whole question of mortality, it's a shame. I didn't mean to segue it this way, but I understand that you would like to, Jimi, offer a word about DJ Frankie Knuckles who passed away this week. We have a short clip of his work called, "The Whistle Song." We did a piece about him earlier this week if you're interested and want to hear more about him. But here it is.


MARTIN: What he was...


MARTIN: ...He was understood as the godfather of house music. And we talked about his legacy earlier this week, but Jimi, I know you want to say something as a former DJ yourself, you wanted to say something.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I was a club DJ for 15 years and he was a role model for me as a - as one of the very few DJs of color. And he was a curator of sound long before the computer did it for you. You know, he was a preacher back when the turntable was a pulpit and the crowd was the congregation. And we're going to miss him. Let the church say amen.

MARTIN: Amen. All right.

OMAR: Amen.

MARTIN: Now Neil, I understand that you were also a DJ?

MINKOFF: Not to that extent. Let's be clear.

MARTIN: Yes, yeah. And in the astronaut program too, multifaceted.

MINKOFF: Yeah, right.


MARTIN: But I understand that you're - but I understand that there's another artist that you want to remember this week as well. Also a favorite of Arsalan's. Neil, tell us.

MINKOFF: Yeah, tomorrow's the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain. And it seemed like such a cultural milestone when it happened and it's getting a lot of attention. I just am not sure that the - because of the way the grunge movement worked out, I'm not sure it's as important as Jimi's shout out.

You know, the grunge movement kind of has come and gone and has been surpassed. And I think Cobain's legacy is really that his body of work was so compressed and so short, that all, you know, few of the albums were masterpieces and we never saw the disappointing album or anything like that. And I think that's one of the reasons he's being remembered 20 years on.

MARTIN: Arsalan, you have something quick to say about Kurt Cobain?

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. I remember that the night that Kurt Cobain killed himself was the night before that I took the SAT exams. And as a card carrying member of Generation X, I remember going to take the SATs the next morning and there were 500 of us in an auditorium just stunned that the John Lennon of Generation X had just killed himself. And how are we going to take this test? I guess we're not going to college 'cause, you know, we were just stunned. And it's something that Kurt Cobain will always be remembered by.

MINKOFF: Still making excuses 20 years later, Arsalan.


IFTIKHAR: I did all right.

MARTIN: He somehow managed. He did all right, he did all right.

IZRAEL: Cheap shot.

MARTIN: All right, one final word here. As one of our producers pointed out, it was 30 years ago when we lost the prince of soul, Marvin Gaye. So, host privilege here, we're going to go out on a little "Trouble Man. And that's our program for today. Ammad Omar is an editor with TELL ME MORE. Jimi Izrael is a writer, you can find his blog at JimiIzrael.com. Neil Minkoff is a health care consultant and contributor to National Review. And Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of themuslimguy.com and an adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University. Thank you all so much.

OMAR: Thank you.


IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.


MARTIN: And remember, 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. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.