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Song About Walker Lindh Stirs Controversy; Is Political Correctness `Coloring the News'?; Is a Teen Advice Column Too Hot for School Shelves?

Aired July 23, 2002 - 15:00   ET


KATHLEEN KENNEDY, GUEST HOST: Hi there everybody, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Kathleen Kennedy, in today for Arthel Neville; she is on assignment for "AMERICAN MORNING."

Let me ask you this: Would you sing a ballad to Taliban-American John Walker Lindh? Do you even want to hear the song?

A country-rock song called -- has written a song called "John Walker's Blues," and it's being bashed in Nashville, where it's been recorded by singer and songwriter Steve Earle. It's a sympathetic look at Lindh's Islamic journey from California to Afghanistan and back.

Not-so-sympathetic talk show host Steve Gill here from WTN in Nashville thinks consumers should boycott the record. He's here to tell us why.

And also with us is Grant Alden, co-publisher of the alternative country music magazine called "No Depression."

Guys, thanks for being on the show today.



KENNEDY: OK, let me start with this: Does this song glorify John Walker Lindh and the Taliban cause? .


STEVE EARLE, SINGER/SONGWRITER (singing): We came to fight the Jihad and our hearts were pure and strong. As death filled the air we offered up our prayers and prepared for our martyrdom. But Allah had some other plan, some secret not revealed. Now they're dragging me back with my head in a sack to the land of the infidel.


KENNEDY: All right, you've heard the words. Steve, what do you think? GILL: I think it's outrageous, and particularly when we're still within one year of the September 11 attacks on America. This is a sympathetic, glorifying approach to John "Taliban" Walker. The guy is a traitor to his country and I think, frankly, Steve Earle was trying to push the edge of the envelope, but it's time for the American people to push back.


ALDEN: I think that's making a lot out of not very much. It doesn't glorify him. The song is a blues, not a ballad. And what it argues is that John Walker is a slightly more complicated character than we know at this point.

I don't think that's a radical statement, but apparently it is now.


GILL: During World War II, you could have argued that Hitler was a more complicated man than people approached, and I don't think an American would have written a paeon to Hitler during World War II, or that less than a year after Pearl Harbor, we would have seen people writing songs giving us the perspective of the Japanese Zero pilots' attack on Pearl Harbor.

We're within a one-year period of the attack on America, and I think it's too early for a song like this. And I think Steve was just trying to look to be outrageous to attract attention.

ALDEN: I don't think Steve...

KENNEDY: Grant, you've got to admit, though, that it draws some comparison between John Walker Lindh and Jesus. And this has got to be particularly offensive to Christians.

ALDEN: That's one of the really silly things that's come up in this discussion. He's not drawing the comparison.

If my very limited understanding of Islam is correct, the Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was a prophet and a martyr. And link being made in that song is that, like Christ, if John Walker Lindh dies in his jihad, he will rise to Heaven as a martyr.

That's all it says. It's not equivilating (sic) him with Christ.

KENNEDY: So it's just telling a story Steve, isn't it? What's wrong with that?

GILL: Well look, again, you could have been telling a story about Hitler during World War II, the Japanese pilots. Maybe we'll get a story from Steve Earle next about the killer of little Samantha in California, giving us his perspective. And maybe that will be a great video; I don't think it will be great music, and I don't think people will buy the record.

KENNEDY: See, some people say, though, that's the problem with music today: that there is no freedom of expression allowed.

GILL: Well, I think he's got plenty of freedom of expression. He is free to put this song out there, and the American people are free to say no thank you when it comes to buying it.

KENNEDY: All right, let's hear from our audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Martina (ph). Go ahead.

MARTINA: Well, the irony of it is that if he -- Steve Earle wrote that song and produced it in a Muslim country that practiced Islamic law and referred to that country as the land of the infidel, he would have his tongue cut out or his hand chopped off. You know, he can come and write it here, and we just kind of say, oh well.

ALDEN: Isn't that one of the things that makes us, actually, a good place to live -- that we invite different opinions as part of our public discourse? Isn't that kind of the whole idea?

KENNEDY: Yes, but, you know, that's one of the things Steve Earle says, that there's a new patriotism out there. That there's this sort of mentality that you're either with us, or you're not.

And this is one of the things he had to say about this song. He says: "I'm trying to make clear that wherever he got to, he didn't arrive there in a vacuum. I don't condone what he did. Still, he's 20 years old; he didn't just sit on the couch and watch the box, get depressed and complain. He was a smart kid. He graduated from high school early. The culture here didn't impress him, so he went out looking for something to believe in."

GILL: It certainly sounds like the guy that's being glorified by Steve Earle was certainly a guy that Steve Earle found sympathy with.

My sympathy is on the other side, or with Mike Spann, who was killed by the allies of John Walker. And if John Walker had told the U.S. troops that had him in custody that some of his fellow Taliban- ites had weapons and were planning an uprising in that prison revolt, then perhaps Mike Spann wouldn't be dead and his family wouldn't have fatherless children and a widow trying to make do in Alabama.

ALDEN: All of which is utterly irrelevant to the discussion as to whether Steve Earle should have recorded this song or not.

GILL: Maybe Steve could have done a song from the perspective of Mike Spann and shown sympathy for him, instead of this traitor to America.

KENNEDY: All right, Brandy (ph) would like to weigh in on this.

BRANDY: I agree, certainly, that things could be written -- songs could be written from Japanese, Hitler and the FBI agent's family's point of view.

But Mr. Gill, why are you bringing up things that -- some things that happened over 50 years ago? This is now. We need to focus on what is happening now. Certainly it is irreverent and completely just wrong.

KENNEDY: Well, you've mentioned, Steve, that it's all about the timing. Is there ever going to be a time where something like this is OK?

GILL: Well you know, it may be in a period, you know, a year or two or three years from now, maybe this song would not evoke, I think, some of the emotions that it is.

But keep in mind that this song is going to, apparently, be released in September. And I will say this, at least apparently Steve Earle has had the good taste not to release it on September 11. They're going to wait until September 24.

And the comparisons to Hitler and World War II are the comparison that we are in war, and we are still at risk...


GILL: ... and to be doing these songs as a tribute to people who are our enemies -- a guy who is a traitor to his country, I just think is absolutely the wrong song at the wrong time.

KENNEDY: Grant, let me ask you this: Have you heard the whole album?


KENNEDY: It's called "Jerusalem." Apparently the whole thing is pretty controversial. It addresses several political issues, doesn't it?

ALDEN: Yes, it does. Now, I confess that in light of this particular fracas, I haven't had time to listen to most of the other songs because I've been trying to correctly understand what this song in question is about.

KENNEDY: All right, Virginia (ph) from New York is in our audience.

VIRGINIA: I am personally offended by the song, but I feel that he has a right to write it and have it published, and we have a right not to listen to it.

This is America, and in our zeal to combat terrorism, I think we should not lose sight of the fact that we have constitutional values that we hold dear.


KENNEDY: Grant, what more can you tell us about Steve Earle and his past as a music writer?

ALDEN: Steve has been on the outside of various parts of Nashville since he got here in the early '80s. He's best known for a song, "Copperhead Road," which is a fairly pointed anti-government statement. He's known to be, particularly since he got out of prison -- not really prison, but jail -- he had a brief spate when he was in jail for drugs. He went to rehab, he came out clean.

He's made a series of very good, very interesting records, some of which are profoundly political, some of which touch on the death penalty.

And this new record is a broader approach to contemporary American politics.

KENNEDY: OK, hold it right there. We're going to continue this discussion in just a minute.

Listen to more of Steve Earle's lyrics as we head in to the break.




KENNEDY: All right. Welcome back everybody to TALKBACK LIVE.

We're talking about a controversial country rock song about John Walker Lindh. And we asked whether this was sort of unpatriotic. And before the break, we were talking about Steve Earle, the person who wrote this song. And he has been known to have said about this album that this is the most pro-America album he has written yet. What do you think, Grant?

ALDEN: I think he is right. I think, unfortunately, we have come to a point where we assume that pro-America and patriotism mean doing whatever our government tells us. And this -- we have a much richer political tradition than that.

KENNEDY: All right. We have somebody in the audience who has something very similar to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is Michaela (ph). Go ahead.

MICHAELA: Hi. I totally agree with that talk about the patriotism. I think because we are fighting for these rights to have these rights, just because someone chooses to exercise those rights and we do not agree with it completely doesn't mean those rights still don't pertain to that person. And I completely agree with what you are saying.


GILL: But it still does not mean that we ought to have to purchase the record. I mean, I think nobody is saying that he does not have the right to do this song. I think the question is whether or not the American people should purchase this, should put their dollars behind this effort. And I think we've got a free speech effort to say, no thank you, while he has got a free speech effort to produce this album.

KENNEDY: Steve, do you think the stations are going to play this song?

GILL: I do not think they are going to play it much more than as a novelty to, you know, play into maybe the controversy over it. And I think a lot of that is what Steve is all about. He likes to, again, do things that are potentially outrageous just to attract attention.

ALDEN: This is all a strawman argument. This is all silly. Stations have not played Steve Earle except for "Copperhead Road" in 10 years in any great quantity.

KENNEDY: Chris, who have you got over there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Mary (ph)...

ALDEN: People are going to buy his records anyway. His audience is.

KENNEDY: All right. Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Mary (ph) from Michigan. Mary?

MARY: I agree also that we let them play it, let him record it. It is my money. I have the right to spend it any way I want. It offends me, I won't purchase it. He'll get the point that we don't agree with his way of recording and what he had to say.


GILL: You know, it's interesting. One of the arguments of those who are supportive of Steve Earle constantly claim that the reason he is such a great artist is because he hasn't sold out for popularity, that his records don't sell, people don't buy them, and that shows what a great songwriter and singer he is.

You know, frankly, I do not think he is going to get a big hit out of this record. He has not had a big hit in decades. And this is, again, a last gasp in a career that's going nowhere fast.


ALDEN: That is ridiculous.

GILL: I think there's a large part of that.

ALDEN: He has his own record label. He tours to a significant audience. He sells a significant number of records. He makes a good living. He gets to do what it is he is meant to do and what it is he wants to do. I do not know how you define a career, but I want that for me.

KENNEDY: OK, guys, we got John (ph) on the phone from Canada. You got a question or comment? JOHN: Yes, I got a quick comment. I think it is important to be able to openly discuss why any soldier, Taliban or otherwise, would feel that they had a just cause to give their life to a war. And we look at the Taliban, of course, from their perspective, they felt being that there was no evidence offered and bin Laden said he was innocent, under a rule of indivisible justice where all people are innocent until proven otherwise, they have a fair claim to make, and it's that we can't openly discuss that. We do a disservice to all Americans who believe in freedom. In fact, all human beings that believe in a justice system, we do a disservice by not openly and honestly discussing the facts that stand before ourselves irrespective of anybody's opinion.

I mean, the facts stand as they do. Mr. Bush, when asked for evidence, he said we don't need any evidence. We know he is guilty. Well, the keyword there is "we." As indivisible, we don't need to sacrifice our souls to what can only be described as a false deity. He is an equal man as we all are and women. And for him to blame somebody for a crime without any evidence when all of the evidence that's available points in other directions with a plan he had in place prior to 9/11, two days, to blame bin Laden without providing any evidence established before the terrorist act occurred, I mean, we got a lot to discuss openly and honestly with ourselves as equals committed to democracy.


GILL: Well, I don't think anybody rational is claiming today that Osama bin Laden was not responsible for 9/11. And if you want to look through the facts, Taliban John has admitted to his guilt and has entered a plea of guilty to the charges against him. So, I mean, if you want to look to the facts, the guy is guilty by his own admission.

KENNEDY: All right...

GILL: But do we not wish to understand our enemies? Do we not wish to understand what motivates them so that we can do a better job of attacking them, if that is what our will is to do?

KENNEDY: OK, guys. Let's get to an e-mail real quick.

"It's just a song. It's not going to sway anyone's opinion or change the fact that John Walker is a traitor. What a waste of time to talk about it and give it unwarranted publicity." Jack in Virginia.


All right. We have Gwen (ph) from -- also from Virginia in our audience today.

GWEN: Yes, good afternoon.


GWEN: And exactly what the e-mail said, that was my statement that prior to today, most of us did not know who Steve Earle was. And now, since TALKBACK is having it as a topic, it sort of gave him some publicity around the album and some folks who maybe were not even interested in buying it may buy it just to hear the song. So I think that the media has had a part in putting his record out there and giving it some publicity.

KENNEDY: Right. And, Grant, Grant, Steve has...

GILL: I think that was his goal, that was his ambition in doing this. And if we really want to understand...

ALDEN: No,. Actually, this is all driven by one reporter in New York that wanted to get some ink.

GILL: If his goal was really to understand our enemies, why hasn't he written a song detailing the inside thoughts of the 19 terrorists who hit the buildings in New York and Washington and crashed in that field in Pennsylvania. Steve knew better than to touch that one. He should have known better than to...

ALDEN: Because he has a son who's the same age as John Walker Lindh and he thought he understood that character and he could write an effective song about it. I don't think any of us can pretend to understand the people who crashed those planes.

KENNEDY: And in all fairness, this is a guy who is not a mainstream artist, is he?


KENNEDY: He does not profess to be.


KENNEDY: And he is often relished controversy, hasn't he? I mean, he claimed at one point to be a Marxist?

ALDEN: He has claimed to be an awful lot of things. He is a self-taught guy with a lot of ideas banging around in his head and many of them are quite good.

KENNEDY: Are we going to see an anti-Earle movement here with stations across the country?

ALDEN: Only if they feel it will drive up their ratings. They weren't going to play the record in the first place. They haven't played his last records. The idea that making this record is somehow going to damage his career is preposterous.

KENNEDY: All right, guys, that is all of the time we have. Steve Gill and Grant Alden, thank you both for being on the show today.

Up next, a controversial new book has some journalists crying foul. Race, political correctness and the media when we come back. Stay right there. (APPLAUSE)


KENNEDY (voice-over): Still ahead on TALKBACK LIVE, meet Bill McGowan, author of "Coloring the News." He claims newsrooms are infected with political correctness and the push for diversity is corrupting the news. It got the National Press Club award. How politically correct is that? We'll be right back.


KENNEDY: Welcome back everybody.

There's truth, and then there are shades of truth. And our next guest says the media sometimes shades the truth so much it turns color.

Meet Bill McGowan. His controversial new book, "Coloring the News" claims political correctness has contaminated journalism.

And also joining us is Condace Pressley. She is president of the National Association of Black Journalists and assistant program director for WSB radio in -- her in Atlanta.

Thank you guys for being on the show today.

Bill, let me begin with you. How -- and I think these were your words -- are we "infected by political correctness"? Give us some examples.

WILLIAM MCGOWAN, "COLORING THE NEWS": Well Kathleen, one of the points I make in "Coloring the News" is the crusade for diversity in the media is a good thing in that it's led to the greater numbers -- increased numbers of minority journalists in newsrooms and better accountable reporting in communities of color.

However, there is a tremendous amount of political correctness that's gone along with that. We see reporting on affirmative action, which is incredibly skewed to favor the pro-affirmative action side. We see reporting on gay rights that's very protective of the gay community, and wants to ignore a lot of the less-than-bright sides of the gay political agenda.

KENNEDY: So how can this be a bad thing?

MCGOWAN: How can all of this be a bad thing?

MCGOWAN: Well, I think if the reporting isn't dependable -- one of the things I document in "Coloring the News" is that there's been an emphatic spin to the left -- to the cultural left -- on controversial social issues such as race, gay rights, affirmative action and immigration,

I don't think this is good for society, if newspapers and broadcast news are basically cocking the news to the left, whether that's intentional or unconscious, it still has an adverse impact on the dependability of the news, and this is not a good thing.

KENNEDY: So is diversity to blame here?

MCGOWAN: Well, I think diversity is partly to blame.

Now, what I want to be very clear is that I don't think minority journalists recruited under the aegis of diversity are altogether to blame for this.

Now, the National Association of Black Journalists seems to think that this is what I'm saying. I make it very clear in "Coloring the News" that I'm not blaming minority journalists; I'm blaming very much minority journalists who become activists, and I'm blaming newsroom managers, very often white, middle-aged, liberal newsroom managers for this problem of political correctness as well.

So it's not like I'm singling out journalists of color at all for this.

KENNEDY: All right, speaking of the NABJ, we're going to bring in Condace.

What do you think?

CONDACE PRESSLEY, NATL. ASSN. OF BLACK JOURNALISTS: Well, while I respectfully here Mr. McGowan's comments on the program today, I respectfully disagree, and suggest that his book, in the opinion of not only the National Association of Black Journalist, but also the other organizations of journalists of color, that it's really just bad journalism.

There are factual errors in his book, so much so that even in the introduction of his book, when he names by name people who have done the things that he alleges -- these so-called middle-aged, white managers in newsroom, Mark Whitaker, who is not a middle-aged, white manager -- in fact, he's an African-American editor at "Newsweek" -- misspells the guy's name in the opening of his book.

So I think what Mr. McGowan's work is, is an effort in bad journalism based on a lot of old stories, a lot of bad reporting. And clearly, to those of us who do work in daily journalism, evidence that he's never really set foot or spent any significant amount of time in a newsroom.

KENNEDY: But Bill's just been awarded by the National Press Club. Was that a bad move on their part?

PRESSLEY: It, indeed, was a bad move on the part of the National Press Club, especially when the National Press Club was confronted by the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists with concerns about their giving him this criticism award.

The fact of the matter is, and something that your audience here and many folks don't understand: All of these prizes, the journalism contests that we all enter are just that, contests that we enter. We submit our work to the judges for consideration. If the judges think the work has merit, then it wins the award.

The fact of the matter is Mr. McGowan's book was the only submission in the press criticism category for the National Press Club Award. And while we asked them to reconsider and to rescind giving him that award, and they decided -- the National Press Club, that is -- decided that it did not want to do that. They did tell me personally, with great misgivings, that they presented him with that award last night.

KENNEDY: Bill, have you gotten a lot of grief about this book?

MCGOWAN: You know, this is nonsense. I'd like to cry foul on my own right by quoting a letter from a member of the National Association of Black Journalists media monitoring committee. This is the level of sophistication the National Association of Black Journalists approached the prize that I won.

This man who was on the media monitoring committee basically said that I wanted to pull journalism back to the days when the only people of color in the newsroom were those that were wiping the floors -- mopping the floors and emptying out waste baskets.

Now, I just think that's so profoundly absurd. I say nothing like that in "Coloring the News" at all. If I misspelled Mark Whitaker's name, I am very sorry.


PRESSLEY: Mr. McGowan, tell us about the amount of time that you've spent in a daily journalism newsroom. Have you worked in daily journalism?

MCGOWAN: No, I actually haven't. But I spent a lot of time reporting on the issue, going to newsrooms for most of five years doing this.

I made hundreds of interviews. I sifted through tens and thousands of news reports. You don't have to be a daily journalist to write about daily journalism.

And as a matter of fact, my scope was a lot wider than daily journalism. I also get into weekly newsmagazines, network broadcasts and monthly publications as well.

KENNEDY: How did you reach this conclusion then?

MCGOWAN: What I did was I sifted through, like I said, tens and thousands of news articles dealing with issues of race, gay rights, affirmative action and immigration. I documented the skew, the distance between the facts of the story as they ultimately occurred, and what was presented in newspapers.

For instance, I documented the distance between what was presented in the coverage of Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative campaign out in California in 1996 versus what was actually presented in, you know, the "L.A. Times" and the "San Francisco Chronicle," the "New York Times," and documented very, very fully just how much bias there was in the coverage of that.

I go into coverage of various gay rights issues. I go into, like, for instance, the gays in the military issue and try to see -- try to document just how much distance there was in the coverage versus the actual facts of the case studies that I brought into the scope.

I think the National Association of Black Journalists doesn't like the fact that I criticize them for being politicized. They have taken political stands on issues. And their convention and their gatherings are filled with the air of political advocacy and political activism.

Not all minority journalist have become racial and ethnic cheerleaders, but too many have. And too many of them...

PRESSLEY: Mr. McGowan, have you ever been to a convention of the National Association of Black Journalists? I'd love to have you in Milwaukee next week when we convene.

Would you join us?


MCGOWAN: Yes. I'm -- you know what, sure, why not? You guys have basically ignored this book...

PRESSLEY: No, no, no. In fact, let me finish, because Mr. McGowan, your book "Coloring the News" is such a discoloration on the profession of which I am proud to participate that the NABJ next week will award you, so to speak, with our Thumbs Down Award, citing your work as the best example of the worst piece of journalism of interest to African-Americans published in the last year.

MCGOWAN: Well, I'm very sorry that you have to stoop to that level of, you know, ad hominem attack.

KENNEDY: All right.

MCGOWAN: I think it's quite sad. But, you know, I will take up your offer to debate the book. Sure. I will be there.

KENNEDY: OK, let us take a break, guys.

You can weigh in on today's show. Call me right here at 1-800- 310-4CNN or e-mail

We're going to be right back.


KENNEDY: Welcome back.

We're talking about whether the media are so politically correct that they skews the news to make it more diverse. Our guests are Bill McGowan, author of "Coloring the News," and Condace Pressley, head of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Are we diverse to a fault?

PRESSLEY: I disagree. And I disagree because, if there were so many journalists of color in America's newsrooms, the American Society of Newspaper Editors this year would not have reported a decline in the number of African-Americans and other journalists of color working in America's newspaper newsrooms.

The Radio Television News Directors Association, which measures the percentages of people of color in television newsrooms and in radio newsrooms, just last week would not have reported a decline in the numbers of people of color. So, if black folks and Asian people and Latinos and Hispanics and Native Americans are influencing the coverage of the news, why is it that we are not a majority or in greater control of that news product, as Mr. McGowan argues?

KENNEDY: What is the percentage of minorities in the newsroom these days?

PRESSLEY: Oh, gosh. I knew you were going to ask me that. Let's see. I know that...

MCGOWAN: Eleven point seven, I think.

PRESSLEY: That is newspapers.

KENNEDY: Well, that is not exactly representative, then, of the 26 percent minority population.

MCGOWAN: But you know what, Kathleen?

Kathleen, I make the explicit point in "Coloring the News" that I do not think newspapers have to be representative. I think have become too enslaved by these numbers and we've lost sight of the fact that the coverage is suffering. The quality and truthfulness of the coverage is suffering.

I agree it is a problem that we don't have enough minorities in newsrooms. I think it is great that we reach out. And news organizations have made a concerted effort over the last 20 years to do so. It's lamentable that the numbers have not matched representation. But you know what? What can we do after trying for 20 years? And here's the product itself, the reporting, the integrity and truthfulness of the reporting is suffering at a very critical point in our development as a nation.

Now, look...


KENNEDY: Bill, let me say this. As a journalist who sits in on editorial meetings regularly, every day, I think I, as an American, as a part of this society, am more enriched by acquiring knowledge from people of different ideas. And I know that every day that I sit in an editorial meeting, I am more awestruck by what different people bring to the table.

MCGOWAN: Are you awestruck and are you enriched by the fact that, for years, reporting on immigration has been hamstrung because there have been people in the newsroom who did not want to write negative things about immigrants.


PRESSLEY: Who are those people?

MCGOWAN: And what we wound up with on September 11 was the upshot of that.

Who are those people? Basically, not necessarily journalists of color, but white liberals as well, who basically had a P.C. view of immigration, and did not want to ask the pressing questions, the urgent questions that we should have asked. And had they asked them for the last five years, perhaps we may not have found ourselves in the unprepared state that we found ourselves on 9/11.

I think the coverage of immigration very much factored into our unreadiness to deal with this issue of domestic terrorism right now.

KENNEDY: Are you saying the media is responsible for September 11?

MCGOWAN: No. I am saying that the media is responsible for a cloud of un-knowingness, a cloud of willful ignorance with regard to the downsides of immigration.

And had we been more rigorous and more aggressive in the ferreting out of holes and weaknesses in our immigration system, the terrorists may not have been able to get in as easy as they did. And I think that is something that's directly attributable to the pro- immigration slant, to the pro-diversity agenda inside the media right now.

KENNEDY: OK, we call this TALKBACK for a reason.

We have got Larissa (ph) on the line from New Jersey.

Larissa, do you have something you wanted to say?


I think that you need to think about what political correctness actually is and think about how the nation uses it, because I think, in the media, that they are doing an OK job. I think that there should be an array of people, races, anything in the media. I don't think that saying that it should be one particular group or different groups now, that it is going to change the whole idea of political correctness being in the media.

MCGOWAN: Well, you know one of the points I make in "Coloring the News" is that I do think minority journalists bring a lot to the table. My problem is the political skew, the political slant, the narrow political orthodoxy, otherwise known as political correctness, for lack of a better term, that gets brought along for the ride.

I don't think Condace is actually representing my book very fairly. And I suspect she has not read it thoroughly at all. There are a lot of people who get hung up on the introductory chapter...

PRESSLEY: I have read the book, Mr. McGowan.

MCGOWAN: ... and never look beyond into the substance.

There is 200 pages in that book that documents mis-coverage born in the name of diversity. And I am not talking about diversity in terms of the complexion of the newsroom. I'm talking about ideologically pro-diversity reporting that is, like I said


KENNEDY: Hey, guess what, Bill?

MCGOWAN: ... political correctness.

KENNEDY: You've got a supporter on the phone.


CALLER: Hi, how are you?

KENNEDY: Good. What did you want to say?

CALLER: I just want to say, people like Ms. Pressley that continue to speak her talk and walk her talk keep America from moving on, OK? We need to get over this racial division that we seem to have. We need to move on in life. Move on, lady.

KENNEDY: Do you want to respond to that?


PRESSLEY: "Move on, lady"?

If we did not have people like Mr. McGowan purporting to take us back to the days of World War II, when there were only white male managers and white news reporters covering the stories that are of interest to the population, we would not have to continue to advocate today for a country that has a majority of people who represent minority cultures, so that there would be equal voices.

All we are asking for is a greater diversity of voices in telling the stories that your viewers and readers and listeners all want and need to hear.

MCGOWAN: You know, Condace...

KENNEDY: One second. Let's get a member of our audience in real quick, Bill.

Rick from Georgia.

RICK: Yes.

I am the president of the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists. And in taking a look at this issue, I think there are a couple of points that are being missed here. First of all, when the National Press Club gave this gentleman an award, it implies that they endorsed the ideas that are contained in the book.

But what the award was actually for was for press criticism. And, in his book, he did effectively point out a few very important problems with the press, one of them being the ineffectiveness that our newsrooms are having in covering diverse issues. Where the error was: in blaming the diverse people within those newsrooms for those errors.

Where the blame really falls is with a power structure within the media, the leadership in the media, which is predominantly white and male. They are having a problem covering an America that is increasingly nonwhite and non-male. So, in as far as introducing an idea that opened up a conversation, the conversation needs to be had about who is controlling the news and why we are having a difficult time covering diverse issues in America.

KENNEDY: Right. Thank you so much.


MCGOWAN: Kathleen, can I get a word in edgewise here?

KENNEDY: Well, I'll tell you what. We have to leave it.

OK, they tell me you have time.

MCGOWAN: I think it's unfortunate that Condace stooped to such demagoguery, saying that I wanted to take us back to World War II days. That is a crock, absolute nonsense.

PRESSLEY: As is your book, Mr. McGowan.


MCGOWAN: Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. But a lot of people do not agree with you. And the book has done very well and gotten incredible reviews. The National Press Club gave it an award, said that it was thoroughly researched and made an important contribution, and, above all, really, really was thought-provoking.

I mean, this is just -- you are ad hominem disparaging me. Go right ahead. But people who read the book will see the truth inside the book. KENNEDY: And it's called "Coloring the News."

Bill McGowan and Condace Pressley, thank you both for coming on the show today.

All right, up next: Is a new advice book for teenagers too hot to handle? You'll want to stick around for this. Stay right there.

Coming up: Meet advice columnist Sari Locker. She has "The Real Dirt on Everything From Sex to School." But Dyersville, Iowa, doesn't dig that dirt. Find out why it's off the library shelf next on TALKBACK LIVE.


KENNEDY: Welcome back, everybody.

We now have "The Real Dirt on Everything From Sex to School." That's a book written by a teen advice columnist Sari Locker. But it might be too dirty for some teens. And the Public Library Board in Dyersville, Iowa, has elected to keep it off the shelves.

The author, Sari Locker, joins us now, along with Peter Labarbera, a senior policy analyst for the Culture and Family Institute.

Guys, thanks for being on the show today.



KENNEDY: All right, you have a library that has taken your book off the shelf. Don't they have the right to do that?

SARI LOCKER, AUTHOR, "SARI SAYS": This book is nothing that is titillating.

In fact, this is a book of questions that teenagers have asked me in their own words, with my answers. I am a trained teen educator. I have been doing for well over a decade. And this book covers topics from how to talk to your parents if you want to get a tattoo, to how to study for the SATs, to what to do if you think your best friend might have an eating disorder.

This is a comprehensive book. It has 11 chapters and only one chapter that deals with sexuality. So, I think that in Dyersville they are seeing something in this book that just is not there.

KENNEDY: There are some very salacious topics in there, some about masturbation.

LOCKER: But that is not salacious. Those are not salacious topics. That is the most normal behavior for people of all ages. And when teenagers ask me if masturbation is something that is normal, that is healthy or that will hurt them, I need to answer honestly. I do not get into any graphic explanations that their parents would not want to share with them.

But, in some cases, teenagers don't want to talk to their parents. They are afraid to. So, throughout the book, I encourage them to talk to their parents about all these issues.

KENNEDY: Peter, what do you think? Should this library have pulled this from the shelves?

LABARBERA: Well, think Sari is really presenting this book as being a little bit more less controversial than it is.

Here's one of the questions she has in her book which I think parents in Dyersville will have every right to not want their children to see. On page 285, one of the questions is, "If you are in a shower with a guy and he masturbates, but his penis does not go near your vagina, can you get pregnant?"

And then she has -- at the back of the book, it points to her Web site. And on her Web site is an article from "Playboy" magazine in which she talks about threesomes and cuffing...

LOCKER: That is absolutely not true.


LOCKER: Excuse me. Wait. I need to interrupt. That is absolutely not true.

LABARBERA: Sari, I have got it in my hands. Sari, let me finish. Do you want me to read the article?

LOCKER: This book does not lead to a Web site like that. He is absolutely not telling the truth. I am against pornography on the Internet. And the reason why I answer questions the way I do is so teens can get good information from me.


KENNEDY: Let Peter make his point.

LABARBERA: Can I make my point? Yes, let me make my point.

All I have is the pages that were faxed to me from CNN. And I am at a disadvantage because I don't have the actual book. But, in the back of the book, it says ask questions to Sari Locker through her Web site. We went to her Web site. There is an article from "Playboy" in which she's talking about...

LOCKER: You did not go to my Web site:, All it talks about is teenagers. And I also give advise on This is nothing that like the things that you mentioned.


KENNEDY: You hope that kids are able to get this information at home. You hope that, in the ideal world, that would -- you would like to see that happen. But this is not an ideal world. Kids need information. And where else are they going to get it other than a public library?

LABARBERA: Well, the fact is, is that Sari does not have a right to have her book in every library in every country. If the community standards of Dyersville, Iowa, say, "Look, we don't want this book that talks about guys masturbating in the shower and whether that is sex with their girlfriend," that is their right. Why does she have a right to have her standards in every library in the country? It's not a right.

KENNEDY: OK, I want to tell that we have on the phone Wayne Hermsen. He is president of the James Kennedy Library Board of Trustees in Dyersville, Iowa, the library that pulled this from their shelves.

Tell us exactly what you did.


KENNEDY: Yes, you're on the air. Tell us what you did there.

HERMSEN: Sorry for joining in late here.

Essentially, what happened is, the staff member had seen the material, objected to it, eventually brought it to a board member's attention, who put a formal request for reconsideration. And it was denied. And it was brought appeal to the board. And the board agreed with the board member that maybe it did not suit our community standards, in a nutshell.

KENNEDY: Sari, I can only imagine that you are very disappointed about this.

LOCKER: Well, this book has been extremely well received.

As I said, this book only has one chapter about sex. And the way that I handle sex is from a very professional standpoint. We all agree that we want teenagers to delay their first sexual activity. The fact is that 50 percent of 16-year-olds have had sex and 50 percent have not. That is the nationally known statistic.

So, what I try to do in this book is encourage teens to wait to have sexual intercourse. When a teenager writes me a letter about an alternative behavior to intercourse, I can't discourage them from doing that. But I can say to them, "Wait to have intercourse," because that is where there are more risks involved.


KENNEDY: And, Peter, the fact is that a lot of parents are unwilling and just uncomfortable talking about the whole sex thing. So, where else are they going to get this information? LABARBERA: Kathleen, that may be the case. But we come back to the community standards. Why does Sari think that -- what is wrong with a community deciding what books? If there was a book that said "How to do Drugs?" for example, do you they have to have that in the library?

LOCKER: Well, this book is very anti-drug.

LABARBERA: Her book says there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. Many parents disagree with that. And that is their right. And I'm sorry we have come to the point where we think that every library in every school has to be the same. The fact is, communities have the right to set their own standards.

And, Sari, I guess that was your other Web site that is not recommended in the book. Is that your Web site,

LOCKER: I do write some books that are for adults only.

LABARBERA: OK, so let's get this straight. So let's get this straight. On Sari Locker's other Web site, which the average person would know where to go to,, on that Web site, there is an article that advocates threesomes and chaining up


LOCKER: It does not advocate anything.

LABARBERA: Oh, come on, Sari.


KENNEDY: Stand down for just a second. We've got to get in a break here. We've got Carlotta (ph) on the line. We're going to hear from her right after this break.


KENNEDY: Welcome back to TALKBACK.

We are talking about the "Real Dirt on Everything From Sex to School." It's a book written by Sari Locker. It's been taken out of a library in Iowa, the James Kennedy library.

And on the phone, we have with us Wayne Hermsen, who is on the board of trustees for this library.

Wayne, is the book officially banned from your library?

HERMSEN: Actually, it never made it into our collection or onto our shelves. What the board voted to do was to return the material back to the book supplier.

KENNEDY: Well, what is the word among librarians across the country? Do you think other libraries will follow suit? HERMSEN: I have no idea.

KENNEDY: All right.

LOCKER: If you would like to know -- I would like to interject.

KENNEDY: Go ahead.

LOCKER: This book actually won an award from the American Library Association. And in the AP Wire


LOCKER: The person who gave this award actually said that the American Library Association thinks that the reason why this book got the award is because it is a perfect book to be in public libraries.


LABARBERA: Kathleen, if I were a parent, I would not heed the American Library Association's recommendations. This is a group that is trying to ban filters. They don't want libraries to have filters to protect their children from Internet porn.

Let me read something from Sari's book here. Sari, I would like to ask you about this. And, again, I don't have all the pages. On page 308, you say...


LOCKER: Before you read anything else, I need to say...


LABARBERA: Can I read it?

LOCKER: I think it is unfair. Let people look at the book in its entirety.

LABARBERA: Sari, I know you are trying to present the girl-next- door image. But let me just answer.

LOCKER: I am trying to be truthful.

LABARBERA: Well, your own Web site advocates threesomes and S&M. So, let me read this.

LOCKER: That is just not true.

LABARBERA: Yes, it is, Sari.


KENNEDY: Can I stop you for just a moment? I want to say this. Let me say one thing. I, as a parent, have one concern. And that is that kids today are not allowed to be kids. And they were laughing at me earlier today, because I said I could not even find a bathing suit for my 5- year-old that had a skirt around it. We force them to be adults so quickly, to dress like adults, and speak like adults.

We have Carlotta on the line from Kansas.

Carlotta, do you agree with that?

CALLER: Yes, I can hear you.

One of my big problems with the book and any book is that it is telling the students or the kids too much. And I agree with you. We're making all of the kids adults so fast. I can see teenagers right now dressing like prostitutes, instead a little bit of moral issues within themselves. So this book, I hope it does not even reach Kansas. I am hoping to God.


LOCKER: You know, you guys, you are getting the wrong impression. And I tell kids, "Don't dress sexy." I tell kids, "Talk to your parents about everything." My value is, teenagers should not do anything that they would hide from their parents. And, in this book, I explicitly tell teenagers, "Talk to your parents about everything that you are doing, everything you are thinking of doing."

I encourage family values in this book so much.


LABARBERA: There is nothing wrong with homosexuality: That is not family value, Sari. Sorry.

LOCKER: I think people will judge for themselves.


KENNEDY: Thank you both. We are so out of time. They are running the music over us.

Sari Locker and Peter Labarbera, thank you both for being here today. And thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Kathleen Kennedy, in for Arthel Neville.

TALKBACK LIVE returns tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.


Correctness `Coloring the News'?; Is a Teen Advice Column Too Hot for School Shelves?>



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