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Beauty Shop Fodder: Cabinet Picks And Reality TV


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago. We'll fill in some of the blanks that you might not remember from your high school history class, or might never have actually learned about this important document. We'll talk with Lonnie Bunch, who's heading up the team creating the new Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall. That conversation is just ahead.

But first, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website the Wise Latina Club; Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C., editor for P.J. Media - that's a conservative-libertarian commentary and news website; and Mary Louise Kelly is former NPR intelligence correspondent. She's also an author, writing a book. They're all here in our Washington, D.C., studio. And joining us from St. Louis is Danielle Belton. She is editor-at-large of Clutch Magazine online. She's also the head writer for "Don't Sleep." That's a show on BET hosted by T.J. Holmes.

Welcome back, everybody. Happy New Year.


VIVIANA HURTADO: Happy New Year, Michel.

MARTIN: We wanted to start off by talking about something that I understand why a lot of people might think, ehh, what does this have to do with me? But you know, President Obama, obviously re-elected to a second term, assembling his new team of advisers, his Cabinet. He kicked off the week with two key national security nominations. He chose John Brennan, currently his top counterterrorism adviser, to head the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. And he picked former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be the new secretary of defense. I just want to play a short clip from his announcement.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot. He enlisted in the Army, and volunteered for Vietnam. As a young private and then a sergeant, he served with honor alongside his own brother.

MARTIN: Sounds good, right? Well, this goes back to what I said at first; that people might be asking, well, why are you talking about this? This has attracted a furious reaction from both the right and the left, and we want to talk about why that is and whether this is actually a proxy for something else. So Bridget Johnson, why don't you start us off from the right. Furious reaction - why?

BRIDGET JOHNSON: You've got a few angles coming at Chuck Hagel. And it's really interesting because he was in the Senate not that long ago, so a lot of the opposition is coming from guys who recently served with him, who - you know, were privy to the sort of backroom conversations, Senate dining room conversations that go on. You've got a lot of concern about his stance on Israel. And that comes, also, from pro-Israel Democrats, like Senator Ben Cardin. He's made references - like, to the Jewish lobby, which is really offensive to groups like the ADL, etc.

You've got his stance on Iran, which is going more for internationally accepted sanctions, and is basically taking a military option off the table as Iran continues to propel towards this nuclear capability. And then you have some left-field concerns brought up, too; like, Senator Bob Corker is concerned about this stance on the modernization of our nuclear arsenal. So there are lots of concerns coming from all sorts of...

MARTIN: Just one point of clarification. The ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, says it's not actually opposing Chuck Hagel's nomination. It will not oppose his nomination.

JOHNSON: Right. But he specifically said that that - he needs to address what he said because it's hurtful to Jewish...


JOHNSON: ...people to hear that, so...

MARTIN: Now, Mary Louise, you actually covered the Pentagon, in a previous life.


MARTIN: You know, there's what people say, and then there's what they really mean. So why don't you tell us what people really mean. What do you think this is really all about?

KELLY: I, personally, think some of this is much ado about nothing. Not that it doesn't matter what the future secretary of defense's views are on everything from Israel to Iran to nuclear weapons, and so forth; but some of the comments that have been criticized have been taken out of context. We've seen - the White House has come out and defended the nomination, saying look, Dick Cheney, when he was vice president, talked about the Jewish lobby - and used that term. So you can find it offensive, but let's not pin it on one, particular person whose views you may or may not disagree with.

The other point of view I would bring out is just that some of those comments are from years ago. Like, if you look at Iran, for example, some of the comments that have been generating so much criticism were made in 2008, 2009. Since then, the situation has changed. Not that Chuck Hagel should not be called to account for what his views are, not that we have great clarity over how they may have evolved, but clearly the situation in Iran has evolved. I think if you asked President Obama four years ago, what's the best way to deal with Iran, you might hear a different answer then what we're now seeing the administration pursue as a policy.

So I think this is the rare confirmation hearing where we may actually get some real illumination on what Chuck Hagel's views are. He's been serving in a, you know, advisory role, but he's been out of the public eye as a senator for a few years. I'm really curious what he has to say about some of these things now.

MARTIN: The progressive columnist David Sirota, writing in Salon, said that the real issue here is that when a nominee is seen as a threat to the lucrative business of permanent war; a business whose profit margins, employment footprint across America, campaign contributions and think tank underwriting make it by far the most powerful pillar of the power structure - he's saying - I'm saying he's suggesting; no, he's saying that the real issue here is that Chuck Hagel is an advocate of a smaller military presence, and that that's really what it's about. It's really follow the money. Do you credit that? Do you think that's true?

KELLY: I do think that's true. We've seen Chuck Hagel not walk back from any of the comments he's made about - there is a bloated defense bureaucracy. The budget is going to be tightened. That's clearly going to be one of his top priorities - if not his very top priority - if he's confirmed as secretary of defense. That's a huge lobby.

If you want to talk lobbies, the defense lobby, the military establishment carries a huge amount of weight, and will fight tooth and nail against any cuts. Clearly, that's going to happen. And having somebody who seems to hue to what President Obama's point of view is - in terms of, these cuts are necessary in a time of financial hard times - is probably something that's not a bad thing.

MARTIN: Well, I do want to point out that the criticism is not all from the right. It's also from the left, if you can call it that. There's a group, Log Cabin Republicans - frequent guests on this program - who are a lobby within the Republican Party, advocating for LGBT issues - have been critical of the fact that Chuck Hagel, some years ago, described a nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg as quote, "openly, aggressively gay," and said that that was an inhibiting factor to do an effective job. And they felt that that was offensive and that - he's also walked that back many - I mean, this was years ago, and he's also apologized for that. Chuck Hagel has apologized for that comment and said that, you know, his views have evolved.

But Viviana, you are also critical of this. You have something to say about the whole sort of package of the president's nominees, in this area. What's your view on this?

HURTADO: Right. Whether it's John Kerry to state, Chuck Hagel - as we've been talking about - to head up defense, or John Brennan over at CIA or, you know, John Doe to head up whatever, that's the point. I am not seeing Juan Doe. And we're seeing John Doe...

MARTIN: Or Juanita.

HURTADO: Exactly. Or Juanita Doe.

MARTIN: Or Juanita Doe.

HURTADO: And I guess what I'm - ultimately, what's important here is, this falls squarely under the jurisdiction of presidential prerogative. The president is going to choose who he believes is the most qualified - and here's another thing that's really important - who he trusts. Who is he the most comfortable with? But the White House has also said that the president firmly believes that it's important to have a cabinet, the most inner - you know, innermost circle to this president representative of America, and up to now, not just with the picks but even the rumors that have been flying back and forth, I haven't seen anybody from a diverse community, with the exception of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice - and we know what happened with her - and certainly no Latinos. That's a problem, and I see it because, firstly, this is an emerging community that helped - that was a key part of the coalition that delivered reelection to this president.

And so I will really encourage the president and his advisors to look beyond the usual suspects. I want to encourage the Latino advocacy community to not - that can, in some cases, be a little too close to this administration, to maybe get a little bit of distance and to start upping the pressure, to really show this...

MARTIN: Well, who - but name names, though. I mean you can't, you can't, you know, replace somebody with nobody.


MARTIN: Part of the question is, are there people who are well-positioned who have the qualifications and the experience to be effective in these roles?

HURTADO: In a forthcoming...

MARTIN: I mean one of the things that was interesting to me is people say, well, you know what, that this national security team will be less diverse than the team assembled by George W. Bush. That is true at the top level, but what was also interesting to me at the mid-level and at the lower level, what did that bench look like?


MARTIN: And that was not a diverse bench.

HURTADO: In a forthcoming article that actually was published today in my blog, the Wise Latina Club, and in Fox News Latino, I do give up some names. Some people who may not want it and may not even be interested, may not even be a list of consideration by this administration, but for example, Bill Richardson is in North Korea right now and...

MARTIN: The former governor of New Mexico.

HURTADO: The former governor of New Mexico.

MARTIN: Former cabinet...

HURTADO: Former...

MARTIN: ...secretary and...

HURTADO: ...cabinet secretary.

MARTIN: ...former energy secretary.

HURTADO: Exactly. And former...

MARTIN: United Nations ambassador.

HURTADO: ...U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and a rival as well, of President Obama in 2008 as a presidential candidate. You know, in the private sector we have the CEO and president of the USHCC, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Javier Palomarez. In Congress we have, you know, numerous people, including Congressman Javier Becerra, Senator Bob Menendez. There's a lot of reasons - and I name others. There's a lot of reasons why people would not want to serve or won't even be asked, but I would just encourage this president and his innermost circle to think outside the box.

MARTIN: Danielle Belton, do you want to weigh in on this before we move on?

DANIELLE BELTON: I think the reality is, is that we're dealing with systematic issues of racism and sexism where it's not so much the presence that we have a whole apparatus, a whole system in place where the people who are in charge and the people who are secondary in charge who are picking people who are often male and are often white. And sometimes on purpose and sometimes inadvertently so, they pick those that they feel the most close to, the most similar to themselves, which are other white men. So you just have a glut of people that you have to get through as a minority, as a woman, to get past, to get noticed, to get that attention, as well as other issues that kind of keep you from these sort of spaces.

MARTIN: It is worth noting, though, and I mean I know people have sort of joked about this, that when Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is the former Clinton administration official in the State Department who's made such a splash with her writings about barriers to women rising to the top levels in foreign policy, national security and other fields - when she mentioned that John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator, would likely be nominated as Secretary of State, she said one of her sons said, oh, a guy can be secretary of State? I mean it is worth noting that this has not been - you know, there was Madeleine Albright. There was Condoleezza Rice and there was Colin Powell. I mean so this would be the first white guy Secretary of State in a long time. I do think that is kind of worth mentioning.

Well, moving, I want to say, from the sublime to the ridiculous, but I'm not sure that's quite right either, and if you're just joining us, you're listening to our Beauty Shop roundtable with Danielle Belton, editor-at-large of Clutch Magazine online, Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, former NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, and Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor at P.J. Media.

Reality shows. OK. Don't throw your shoes at me, but there are so many of them this season and people are asking, is there - have we reached a new low? And I'll just play you a short clip from a show called "Buckwild."


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Wait. What are we doing with a dump truck?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We're going to turn it into a swimming pool.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ever since we've been little kids, we've been fixing stuff, building stuff. We ain't got much, but we have fun with what we got.

MARTIN: So that was a scene from the new show, "Buckwild." It's kind of like - kind of like "Jersey Shore," although instead of like Italian-American kids chugging beer, this show is on, you know, Appalachian youth chugging malt liquor and amusing themselves by doing stuff with trucks, and so - and there's another one, "All My Babies' Mamas," on the Oxygen Network. The show features rapper Shawty Lo and the 10 different mothers of his 11 children. And I've described this to a couple of people; it's been really interesting to watch people's heads spin off their necks as they, like, just - ahhh!

So Danielle Belton, what is your thought about this? Are we taking this too seriously or is this really just too much?

BELTON: Well, in some cases, yes and no. The reality is - what the reality is about reality shows - no pun intended - is that as long as people watch them and they're cheap to manufacture, they're going to be on TV and the whole modus operandi with reality shows today is to be as sensational, as over-the-top, as ridiculous as possible. I mean there is no low anymore. I don't know how much lower it can get and, you know, "All My Babies' Mamas" is like - it sounds like a skit from the film "Idiocracy," you know, like, ow, you know, like, you know...

MARTIN: It's Shawty Lo. I'm sorry. It's Shawty Lo. Sorry. You still - you hear that I still have a cold. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but it's the Sudafed. But as you know, I mean some African-American bloggers and commentators are just really disgusted. They say this is perpetuating just - this is just what we do not need, and similarly, remember, you know, there are a lot of Italian-Americans who were really disgusted about "Jersey Shore."

BELTON: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: And then there are, you know, political figures who are disgusted about "Buckwild" who are - you know, this is not what we need. I guess - I mean obviously the First Amendment applies here. People can do what they want. But Danielle, are you disgusted or you just think, what, just don't watch it?

BELTON: Well, it's like on the one hand I am, just as a human being, because it's just like - I don't understand, like, being rewarded for that sort of behavior where you get a check and a TV show and notoriety and fame. The other side of it, where you have people concerned that - oh, people will watch this and they'll think that's how all black people are, That I find a little ridiculous. To me, if you meet somebody in 2013 who watches the show and assumes all black people are that way when you've got Obama in the White House and go see movies with Will Smith in them, they go root LeBron on the court, I'm just like you're ridiculous. You know better at this point. If you want to believe that's all black people, that is on you. That's not on me to prove to you what kind of black person I am by telling Shawty Lo not to be on TV.

MARTIN: Or Appalachian people or whatever.

BELTON: Exactly.

MARTIN: Bridget Johnson, you have been - you've disclosed that you have a secret passion for reality TV. Not a secret anymore. Which one and why?

JOHNSON: I love "Amish Mafia" and, you know...

MARTIN: Really? How come?

JOHNSON: It's so gangster. I mean it's like Quentin Tarantino is remaking "Witness" and, like, the season finale is tonight and I know somebody's buggy's going to get busted up. I mean it's just...

MARTIN: Why do you like it?

JOHNSON: It's just - it's entertaining, and also, you know, I've read some local news reports from the Lancaster area, etc., and the people there are finding it entertaining too, because they don't see a lot of reality in it, but they see the entertainment in it. And I think people suspended their disbelief about reality TV a long time ago by the time the umpteenth bachelor relationship didn't work out. So you know, you see things like - yes, I also watched "Flavor of Love" when it was on.

MARTIN: Oh, no. I don't know. You might have to go into purgatory for a couple of weeks on that. I don't know. I thought we were friends, but maybe not.

Viviana, what do you think?

HURTADO: I don't watch reality television because I don't have time, although over the holiday, when we would put the baby down - I was with my sister - I had two hours and so I would work out for two hours and I was bored out of my mind, so I watched reality television. And I'm a big fan of "Don't Be Tardy to the Party."

MARTIN: Mary Louise?


MARTIN: You can - you're safe here. You can tell us.

KELLY: I mean I think they've summed it up, that any pretense that these shows - that reality TV has anything to do with reality - we let go a long time ago. I will say the thing that bugs me about this latest crop is the kids who are involved. You know, this is 10 moms and their 11 children who are on this show and - yeah - I have a choice not to watch these shows if I don't like them.

These adults - and I use the term loosely in that particular case - these adults made a choice. They get to sign up, be on the show, not be on the show. Their choice, but I do - the kids thing bugs me because you just don't know how that's going to affect them 10 years down the road. Somebody made the point, I hope they use all the profits from that show to pay for all their therapy, and I'm onboard with that.

MARTIN: Honey Boo Boo, Honey Boo Boo, if she's running for president 20 years from now, you heard it here first. OK?

Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website the Wise Latina Club. Mary Louise Kelly is a former NPR intelligence correspondent. She's author of the soon to be released thriller, "Anonymous Sources." Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media, here in D.C. From St. Louis, Danielle Belton, editor-at-large of Clutch Magazine online.

Thank you all so much.

HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.

BELTON: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

KELLY: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.