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Barbershop: Political Dust-ups And Advocacy In The NBA


And now it's time for our trip to the Barbershop - that's our weekly conversation about what's in the news and whatever else is on our minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are Dru Ealons, a political blogger, former Obama appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency. Hi, Dru.

DRU EALONS: Hey there.

MARTIN: NPR's own Morning Edition editor Ammad Omar. Hi, Ammad.

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Hey, how are you?

MARTIN: And Wesley Lowery, reporter for The Washington Post. Hi, Wesley.


MARTIN: Thanks for coming in, happy holidays to everybody. I hope...

LOWERY: Merry Christmas.

MARTIN: ...Everybody had a pleasant day, whether you observe the holiday or not. But we see that not everyone is feeling the love and joy of the season. For example, Donald Trump has not taken time off from slinging the rhetoric. Hillary Clinton was the target on Monday of this week - what a surprise. Trump used what I think a lot of people heard as a Yiddish slur, saying that she got schlonged in the 2008 Democratic primaries. You know, Ammad, I just have to ask, as a person who sort of sees all of the traffic around these stories when they come in, is it even worth asking anymore whether he's crossed the line?

OMAR: It's funny because, you know, if you go back to the earlier parts of this campaign, we heard his comments about Mexican immigrants; we heard his comments about Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor - he said there was blood coming out of her you-know-where, something along those lines. At all of these moments, people were saying that he must have gone too far now. This has got to be it for Donald Trump because we're not used to hearing candidates use that sort of language I guess. But this one, it just seems like - it's like oh, he said something again. I think the surprise if he were to stop using this kind of language because now it's par for the course for him. And he's doing great in the polls, so it seems like maybe it's working.

MARTIN: Dru, what about his comment about - Hillary Clinton - he had a lot to say about her this week. He said that her - remember, Saturday night was the last Democratic debate of the year. And there was a point at which the cameras came back to the stage and Hillary Clinton was not yet back from what we assume was a stop. And, you know, he said it was too disgusting to talk about. I'm just wondering how do you hear that as a person who's kind of done campaigns, been involved and sort of knows what it's all like to be involved. And she was the only woman on the stage, of course. How do you hear that?

EALONS: What I - what - you know, I guess from the political perspective of what I hear is he's just playing right into her game. Like, he - she wants the conversation between him and her to be around the sexism that he automatically already puts out. But now he has focused it towards her, so it gives her something that she can actually poke at and peel back at and that - honestly, I feel like he fell into her own trap. So now he has all week, unlike how he has before been a little bit more apologetic. He's been more apologetic this time than he really has the last time, or he's been explaining himself more than he has beforehand, usually as a matter fact. So yeah, it was stupid on his part. But...

MARTIN: Interesting...

EALONS: ...He fell into her playbook.

MARTIN: That's interesting. Wesley, what do you think? This is funny because you're big into social media, too, and you sort of follow this stuff. What do you think about it?

LOWERY: Well, of course, I mean, it's never surprising when Donald Trump does one of these things. You know, every single - tomorrow, we'll be talking about something completely new that he's said and done. It'll be the new worst thing he's said or the new, you know, most hyperbolic thing he's said. But again, you know, I think that that was right. It does really play into kind of where Hillary Clinton wants the conversation to be, but it also doubles down on what Donald Trump supporters want to hear. You know, people who like Donald Trump like these things. They like this kind of hyperbolic celebrity, not afraid to say whatever's on his mind no matter who knows what that is. And so it's interesting to see how that cuts both ways.

MARTIN: Interesting. You know, there's another interesting dustup I wanted to talk about this week, and that's between Ted Cruz and The Washington Post. It started with this holiday-themed campaign ad featuring his family. And it's supposed to be a spoof infomercial of Cruz reading re-imagined classic Christmas stories but with a snarky political twist. I'll just play a little bit of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The whole family will enjoy reading stories like "The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails."

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: I know just what I'll do, she said with a snicker. I'll use my own server and no one will be the wiser.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And if you act now, we'll throw in the inspiring new Christmas story soon to be an instant classic

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Please read this when daddy.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "The Senator Who Saved Christmas."

MARTIN: So then there was this political cartoon mocking the ad. It shows Sen. Cruz in a Santa outfit with a grinder and two monkeys on leashes - presumably, the monkeys representing the two little girls. So this was not appreciated by the Trump campaign. The Post then pulled the cartoon. So Wesley, you work for The Post.


MARTIN: I don't want to put you on the spot, but I kind of do. So, I don't...

LOWERY: The Washington Post is right always - period.

MARTIN: Well, exactly...

LOWERY: Are the bosses listening?

MARTIN: But, you know, The Post featured the famous political cartoonist Herblock for decades, and he made a lot of people angry but particularly political leaders. I don't remember them ever pulling a cartoon.

LOWERY: Well, you know, the conventional wisdom or the rule of thumb is always that, you know, you keep children out of it. No matter who the politician is, you don't go after the children. Now, that rule is always broken. We've seen - whether it be the Palin children or George W. Bush's children or even Michelle and Barack Obama's children be attacked previously. But I think that - and so it feels as if, you know, this may have been over the line because it invoked his children. That said, when you - you know, Ted Cruz is one of the smartest people in the campaign. You know, a very book smart - a debater, Ivy League-educated. You know that when you involve your children in something like a political ad, you're potentially drawing fire to them so that you can then take the high ground of saying don't attack my kids and raise money off of it, which he did.

MARTIN: He is raising money. But you talked to the Cruz campaign, Ammad. What did they say?

OMAR: Right, so we were talking before about how the Hillary Clinton bit - the Donald Trump bit played into Hillary Clinton's hands - throughout this campaign, Ted Cruz has been kind of playing this - this theme about how the mainstream media is attacking him and the liberal media is out to get him. And they've been pounding this over and over and over again. And like Wesley mentioned, they immediately turned around and launched a fundraising appeal off of this...

MARTIN: Saying what?

OMAR: Saying that - again, look at the liberal media...

MARTIN: They're trying to get me, so you need to help me to...

OMAR: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...Defend myself.

OMAR: And so I asked the campaign if they've been getting more money from that. They didn't really want to go into specifics about whether or not the fundraising is showing any immediate impact, but they went into it. They said look, this is just another example of how the mainstream media is out to get us. And they're saying they're using this - they're very open - they're saying they're using this as a way to energize their supporters and keep playing this theme that they've been hitting over and over again. And I really - I think it played into their hands perfectly.

MARTIN: Dru, what do you have to say about this? As a mom and also as a person who saw how there are some just vicious things said about the Obama girls in - on the other hand, people say well, you know, it's one thing for a politician to use - your people - just a picture of your kids and say look at my beautiful family; I'm a good person. And to actually put them in a political ad in a very particular way - I don't know, where...

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: ...Do you come out on this?

EALONS: Exactly. I think one - the way that I look at it is he opened the door. Now, we can debate on whether The Washington Post should have walked through that door and actually put that picture - but the actual ad really depicted that whole sentiment of just bringing your children into a conversation around a particular person and taking that story and having them being a part of the politics versus saying oh, here's my beautiful family...

MARTIN: OK, but the monkey thing - that's exactly the kind of thing that has...

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: ...Really infuriated Obama supporters over the years...

EALONS: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: ...Is depicting him as a monkey and so forth.

EALONS: Oh, no, no.

MARTIN: So just on that basis, they're not the same ethnic group. And so, of course, there are particular issues around, you know, depicting African-Americans in a certain subhuman light, which is infuriating. But given that...

EALONS: Oh, yeah, I - again - if I was the mother, of course I'd be very upset. And as a mother, I would not want my child, an African-American son, depicted as a monkey. I think that was inappropriate on The Washington Post's part. But I also say when you bring your children into the debate - not about just showing your family but having them talking about the Grinch who used emails or tried to get away - I mean, they have them in what I call the messiness of politics versus just saying here, as a prop, my beautiful family and wouldn't you want to see them in the White House?

MARTIN: I see, so you think they stirred - OK.

EALONS: They opened the door. We shouldn't have walked through it as the media, but they opened the door.

MARTIN: OK. Well, speaking of TV commercials, one more commercial. Another one making headlines this week is from the NBA with basketball stars Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul speaking out about gun violence along with the families of some victims. And, you know, Ammad, just is this something new? I mean, it seems as though the league is getting involved or at least embracing something that is a polarizing political issue. Does that seem like a new thing to you, the way - yeah.

OMAR: It's interesting because it does seem like a new thing. And I chatted with some folks over at the NBA just today asking them about this. And they were very careful about how they're kind of framing this. They're saying this is nothing new. We have been doing community outreach for a long time. And they made it very clear - they're very precise about - and careful about their language. They were saying we're not advocating for any new gun laws. We're not calling for gun control. We just want to stop gun violence and make safer communities. And who can be against that? Everyone's for that, so they're trying to make this a non-controversial thing. But obviously, that's a very fine line to walk.

MARTIN: Wesley, you get the last word on this.

LOWERY: Of course, I mean, I thought it was really interesting. I mean, I thought it was really interesting. Now, it's not the first time. You know, we've seen after Sandy Hook, there were some similar PSAs involving a lot of celebrities, including some NBA players. But one thing that's really fastening is the NBA players tend to be the most outspoken about social issues, whether it was LeBron James wearing the I Can't Breathe shirts after the Eric Garner - it seems to be - they are some of the athletes who are the most human. And for me, as a basketball fan, as an NBA fan, it's very attractive to me to see them engaging, no matter what side of some of these issues you're on.

MARTIN: All right, we have to leave it there for now. That's Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post, Ammad Omar from NPR's Morning Edition and blogger Dru Ealons. Thank you all so much for joining us.

OMAR: Thank you.

EALONS: Thank you.

LOWERY: Merry Christmas, happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.