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Cliven Bundy, #myNYPD: Public Relations Fails?


I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. It's time yet again for our weekly visit to the Barbershop. That's where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for shape up this week, we have writer Jimi Izrael. He's with us from Cleveland. Pablo Torre is with us from New York. He's a senior writer with ESPN. From Boston, Neil Minkoff, health care consultant and contributor to National Review Online. And here with me in our Washington, D.C. studios, Georgetown University law professor Paul Butler.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Prince Paul, what's up, B? Hey, hey, everybody else.


IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

PABLO TORRE: What's going on, man?

PAUL BUTLER: I'm good. It's good to be here.

NEIL MINKOFF: It's good.

IZRAEL: I feel like the gang's all here. I feel like we should go rob the Bellagio or something.

HEADLEE: No, no, no. No, we'll be doing no robbing.

IZRAEL: OK, well...

MINKOFF: Maybe beat boxing.

IZRAEL: Well, so much for "Ocean's 14." But anyway, it's a big day at Northwestern University. Football players, they are voting on whether the college team should be unionized. But we may not know the results anytime soon. Pablo, P-dog...

TORRE: Yeah, the vote...

IZRAEL: ...What's up with that?

TORRE: Exactly, it's a big day. The voting is already complete actually. But it's an incomplete picture because all of this - the vote is whether to unionize or not, obviously in light of the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board's decision ruling that college football players are employees. And they're going to vote - they voted on whether to unionize or not. But that is all beholden to what the national board is going to rule on.

They have the ability to review the regional director, and they have granted Northwestern's request to review that. And now, it's going to be months potentially until we find out what they rule and what the players actually said because this is only the first step in a long road. So, yeah, we're still waiting. I mean, but it's - whatever happened today, you know, obviously has significant symbolic importance.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you, Pablo. OK, well, something we do know the results on - Yankees pitcher, Michael Pineda, received a 10-game suspension for using pine tar during Wednesday's game against the Boston Red Sox. What's up with that? I always rub pine tar on the mic. Anyway, here's a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Now they're checking his back. Now they're throwing him out of the game. He went to his neck and he said there's something on his neck. So Pineda is being tossed.

IZRAEL: Oh, either homeboy had the dirtiest neck in the world, or he had pine tar on his back. Neil Minkoff, as a Red Sox fan, I guess you get the first word.

MINKOFF: OK, so it's interesting. I was watching the game live at a local pub, and I was with my wife. We were watching it, and the pitcher comes up - Pineda comes out to begin the inning, and everybody - like, the camera - it wasn't hidden. There was no subtlety here.

IZRAEL: Right.

MINKOFF: There's this big streak of tar on his neck. And they're focusing on the picture, and everybody in the bar looked up and said, is that what I think that this? And people started talking to each other, seriously? He's trying to do this again? Because 10 days or so before he had pitched against the Red Sox...

TORRE: Right.

MINKOFF: ...He had tar on his hand. And the team had chosen not to say anything about that. Major League Baseball Joe Torre had basically said to the Yankees, you know, we know that everybody does this, but try not to be blatant about it.


MINKOFF: And if anything, the second attempt was more blatant than the first. What I think is fascinating is that the culture of baseball has come out and said, we know that people use stick em, we know that people use substances. It's OK, but don't rub our face in it. And that's what Pineda did.

IZRAEL: He's just that dude. Pablo, is it true that a lot of pitchers do this?

TORRE: Oh, yeah.

IZRAEL: Is that true?

TORRE: Totally, and the thing is they're smart enough - and the bar for being smart enough here is very low - but they're smart enough to use stuff that's actually fairly translucent, like hair gel or suntan lotion. I mean, this - as Neil was saying, this goes on everywhere. And some would argue, pitchers would argue that it actually helps them get a better grip on the ball so that their pitchers have more control. Maybe that's good for the batter as well.

But the bottom line, whether you buy that or not, it certainly is advantageous to the pitcher and is one of those unwritten rules where reality does not match up with what's on the books. And that's why when you hear everybody complaining about Michael Pineda, it's about how stupid he is because he forced everybody to call - it's like bringing food into a movie theater. They're not going to bother you about it unless you're eating your Big Mac as you're handing the guy your ticket. That's basically what Michael Pineda did.


IZRAEL: I do that all the time. I've totally taken Polish Boys into the movies. I'm that dude. I swear to God, I'm that dude.

TORRE: We're all that dude.

IZRAEL: Paul - right. I'm going to put that on a t-shirt - we're all that dude. Paul Butler, weigh in here.

BUTLER: Oh, so I don't get how everybody does it. But Pineda is stupid just 'cause he got caught. So it's like saying breaking the rules is fine, as long as you do it in a discreet way. I just don't like these inside rules that only the cool kids know about. It seems like Pineda's mistake is that he was transparent and honest.

TORRE: Yeah, that's fair. They should probably change the rule, honestly. I mean, I think they should change the rule at this point.

HEADLEE: Yeah, fair point. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, law professor Paul Butler, sports journalist Pablo Torre and Neil Minkoff, contributor to National Review Online. OK, take it away, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Celeste. OK, well...

HEADLEE: Oh, you're welcome.

IZRAEL: Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy - Cliven Bundy?


TORRE: Oh, boy.

IZRAEL: That's not a name. That's a major appliance. He had a lot of people on his side, mostly conservatives, over a dispute with the feds. He's been fighting to allow his cattle to graze for free on federal land. But he strayed from the danger zone - (singing) danger zone - by sharing his thoughts on, quote-unquote, "the Negro." Oy vey. Drop the clip.


CLIVEN BUNDY: They abort their young children. They put their young men in jail because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, though, are they are better off as slaves, picking cotton and having family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?

HEADLEE: Oh, lord.

IZRAEL: Holy mackerel, Andy. Thank you for that. Cliven Bundy - that sounds like something you catch on spring break. Neil, a lot of conservatives supported Bundy's land fight. As a libertarian, what do you make of him?

MINKOFF: Well, so in fairness, a lot did, but there were a number who from the beginning were saying, this guy is out there.

IZRAEL: Well...

MINKOFF: And I don't really think that he had much of a legal case in the first place. You know, this is ridiculous, this idea of this romanticizing of slavery. One cannot be a libertarian and romanticize the complete and total coercive loss of liberty, right? It is a complete and total paradox. And so this guy is just proving to be a sort of whack job and not really a symbol of anything that's good.

IZRAEL: Oh, OK. Well, Paul Butler, weigh in here, man.

BUTLER: Well, Jimi, what you were calling his land fight, I think you meant to say his illegal occupation of all these acres of government land for, like, 25 years. So can you imagine if he were a Native-American who was doing this? They would have gotten him off of the property one way or another.

IZRAEL: Right.

BUTLER: But instead, he becomes this hero to all these Republicans, even though he's a criminal. So I think it's easy to make this a caricature of a racist. But to me, it's a story about white privilege.

IZRAEL: And I'm so glad I minored in cotton picking. So I've got something to fall back on. So, but anyway, let's keep it moving. There was some headshaking this week in New York - as if - when the police department stepped in by stepping into social media - probably a mistake. In an effort to boost their image, the department asked folks to post photos of themselves with officers using the hashtag #MyNYPD.

That can only go wrong. Instead of shots of Officer Friendly, you know, convocation, they kind of got a ton of photos showing cops pulling hair, dragging people around and even frisking dogs 'cause you know how dogs are. Pablo, you live in New York. What were they thinking?

TORRE: Yeah, I mean, this is, you know - it's as much a New York story as it is a story about just totally misunderstanding what the Internet is.


TORRE: The point at which you open up a hashtag, and you are this authority - basically anybody in authority - it doesn't even need to be the NYPD. We actually saw this in sports. The NCAA's head, Mark Emmert, did a hashtag #AskEmmert, where he opened up the Internet to questions, and he was going to read all of them. And as soon as that happened, it was flooded by people who are cynical. That's the DNA of the Internet.

And in this case, it actually happens to align with raising actual substantive issues, and it was a form of political protest in and of itself. But the Internet, with anonymity and cynicism, that's not where you want to play. If you're just - I'm speaking as a PR director, not at these institutions at this point because I like the way it turned out.

IZRAEL: Right.

TORRE: But, yeah, just misreading who you're talking to.

IZRAEL: Right. You know what? But you know what? To be fair, we don't know what happened or what was happening before the photos were taken - hashtag #APhotoIsWorthAThousandWords. But, Paul Butler, why don't you jump in here, bro?

BUTLER: Well, we do kind of know because the NYPD doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to, you know...

HEADLEE: Community policing?

BUTLER: ...African-Americans - you know, yeah - serving and protecting. But, you know, I do have another NYPD, too, 'cause one of my boys is a cop there. He was running up the stairs of the twin towers on 9/11. And all of a sudden, it came over the loudspeaker, go back down, go back down. And he said they all turned around and started running back down, and the only reason they did that was 'cause that was the order. He's a hero to me. So that's another NYPD. But I think they're all legitimate.

IZRAEL: You tell your boy he's a hero to me, too.

BUTLER: I sure will.

IZRAEL: Neil Minkoff, your take.

MINKOFF: It - I think it's very simple, and I'm down with Pablo on this one, which is either don't wade into social media or have somebody who understands social media explain the rules to before you wade in there. This was just ripe to be taken over with this sort of subversive thing. If I had known about it ahead of time, I certainly would have tried to find the funny pictures and post them here with this. This was absolutely ripe for Internet joke, and it should have been figured out ahead of time. There's no reason to go forward with this knowing that this is the likely outcome.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I don't understand. So you mean to tell me that the NYPD does not know how the Internet works? Clutch the pearls. So anyway, let's move overseas for a tough story about justice in action. The captain of the capsized South Korea ferry was recently arrested. He's accused of jumping ship early. Isn't that right, Celeste?

HEADLEE: That's right. President Obama is in South Korea today. He's expressing his sympathy over the accident that left more than 300 people either missing or dead. But the captain and most of his crew escaped the ship before everyone had been evacuated. So reportedly, the captain directed passengers to stay in their seats below deck. He said he didn't evacuate passengers earlier because he was afraid they'd get swept away by strong currents before rescue ships arrived. The President of South Korea has likened the captain and the crew's actions to murder.

IZRAEL: Well, see, I don't think it's murder. I just think it's dishonorable, and that's something he's going to have to live with. And that's - it's just awful. It's an awful situation, and certainly my heart goes out to all the families and the victims. Paul Butler, your take.

BUTLER: So this actually comes up in the law all the time, how much of a duty we have to help other people. And it turns out, it's very human not to step up. We actually have this instinct for self-preservation. So I think we have to look at these folks with a measure of empathy and humanity.

IZRAEL: He's the captain of a boat. (Laughing) I mean - well, whatever - I mean, you know, captain goes down with his ship. I mean...

BUTLER: Well, you know, maybe we'd like to hope so. But that's not really how it works.

IZRAEL: Evidently. Thank you, Prince Paul. Dr. Neil Minkoff, what do you think?

MINKOFF: Well, so I'm with Paul on this. I mean, this is a - there but for the grace of God go I - I hope I'm never in a situation where I have to make such a horrible decision. It's bad enough working in an emergency room and trying to sort things out one at a time, never mind these large things.

I do think that the whole captain goes down with the ship thing is largely a myth. It was created by the British Navy around the importance of the captain and their selflessness and that their most important duty is the well-being of their crew and their ship. I mean, this is a ferry. Would we say the subway conductor goes down with the subway? It's mass transit. And so I think that a lot of this has been taken over by this myth that was propagated by the British.

HEADLEE: I should mention here - just an insert - that according to South Korean law, the captain does have certain obligations to stay with the ship until all the passengers are rescued. And in fact, there's a criminal penalty for failing to aid passengers in getting off a ship. That's a five-year penalty. And obviously, if it turns out that the sinking happened because of negligence of the crew's part, that brings another penalty as well - just wanted to add that in.

MINKOFF: Now that - that's - that's not - I'm not disputing that. I'm saying that when someone is in a state of panic, they're not thinking.


MINKOFF: Their heart rate's up in the 200s. They are literally probably physically incapable of processing that type of thought.

HEADLEE: Pablo, any thoughts before we move onto something prettier?

TORRE: I just - I have no idea what maritime law entails, so I defer to everybody else on that. But I just think, you know, this is a guy reportedly with 40 years of experience on the water. And I just can't imagine that there was much - there's no winners here. Like, I completely understand what he did. I'd like to think I would not do that, that I would have an obligation to my passengers. But geez, I just don't think there is any winner in this situation.

HEADLEE: Well, we have just a few minutes left here. And I - we might as well move on to a much lovelier and graceful subject, right? This is the Barbershop. But let's talk about a woman here for a second.

IZRAEL: Because women are never talked about in the Barbershop.


HEADLEE: When I go into a barbershop with my son, they stop talking about women.

IZRAEL: I know that's right. I know that's right.


IZRAEL: I'm going to leave it right there.


IZRAEL: I know what happens. Go ahead.

TORRE: Barbershop law.

HEADLEE: So I wanted to get your guys' take about People magazine's World's Most Beautiful issue. And right there on the cover is, of course, Lupita. And I'm wondering - well, let me start with you, Paul. What was your reaction to seeing her face on the front cover of People's Most Beautiful issue?

BUTLER: I was really moved. So the most beautiful woman in the world is obviously not an objective thing. It's political.


BUTLER: It's ideological, and it's always been very racial. And so it's actually a revolutionary moment to have an African woman with African features as the most beautiful. It's a moment of progress, especially for white people. So mad props to white people. You get it.


IZRAEL: I love it. I love it.

MINKOFF: Thanks, Paul.

HEADLEE: Neil, Pablo, Jimi.

TORRE: Yeah, I would add something real quick. I would add, you know, I think that's fantastic for all the reasons that Paul just said. But I also think that ultimately what we're judging this on - the success of this - you know, we're judging this based on the marketplace that is Hollywood.

So I'd like to see roles that would go to the most beautiful woman actually go to the person we're now saying is the most beautiful woman. I feel a bit cynical about what the power of a single publication is versus the market place in Hollywood. And I hope that it reflects an actual change in that marketplace because that's, I think, when the brass tacks is actually reckoned with.


TORRE: We need to see that person actually get jobs in the way that other people have.

HEADLEE: Try and slip into other, rather than just "12 Years a Slave." Jimi, Neil?

IZRAEL: Well...


IZRAEL: Neil, you go in, and I'll end. Go ahead.

MINKOFF: So to me - so I get everything that's been said, and I agree with the validation of a different standard of beauty. Lupita being gorgeous is maybe the least interesting thing about her.

HEADLEE: Yeah, that's true.

MINKOFF: I mean, she was raised all over the world. She's fluent in multiple languages. Her father is in the Kenyan Senate or Parliament - I'm forgetting the proper term - that in some ways, I feel like it's the least interesting thing about this woman and her journey through the world - and a master's degree in Yale and Academy Awards. This is - she's gorgeous. We know that.

HEADLEE: Jimi, final thoughts?

MINKOFF: I'm kind of beyond that.

IZRAEL: Well, I share Pablo's cynicism insofar as - to be sure, she is beautiful. But I wonder, circling around Prince Paul's point, if she wasn't just kind of put on the cover in a move to pander, in a move so that, you know, white Hollywood could pat itself on the back and white people could congratulate themselves. I mean...


IZRAEL: ...This shouldn't take away from her beauty. But I'm just saying.

HEADLEE: Jimi Izrael is always just saying, a writer you can find his blog at JimiIzrael.com. Neil Minkoff, health care consultant, contributor to National Review Online. Paul Butler is a professor at Georgetown University Law School. And Pablo Torre, a senior writer for ESPN. Thanks, all, so much.

TORRE: Thank you.

MINKOFF: Woof. Woof.

BUTLER: Hey, hey, hey.


HEADLEE: And that's our program today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tune in for more talk on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.