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Russia's Mixed Messages on Gay Rights; Badmouthing the Boss on Tape; Slate Won't Use the Name Redskins; MMM-Hops

Aired August 8, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman.

In world news, you'll see banners of every stripe and color at the Winter Olympics except rainbow ones. Russia anti-gay law is adding more chill to the cold shoulder war between President Obama and Vladimir Putin.

The sports lead. They've had the name for 80 years. The Redskins have shown zero willingness to change it despite pressure from those who find it wince-worthy. One of those who cover the Redskins simply decided to stop saying the word.

And the pop lead. Remember those "MMMBop" kids from the '90s? Not only are they old enough to drink, they've created their own beer. And the guys in Hanson aren't the only guys in the music business who want to give you a buzz.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. In world news, a new Russian law banning gay propaganda around young people is making it even more uneasy between the U.S. and Russia right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. In "World News," a new Russian law banning gay propaganda around young people is making it even more uneasy between the U.S. and Russia right now. With fears that gay or even pro gay athletes and spectators could be arrested when they travel to Russia for the 2014 winter games, this is a giant issue. President Obama spoke out on gay rights around the world but, he didn't really provide a clear solution.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them. It makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes. But one of the things that I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Yesterday, the White House announced that an upcoming summit between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin was canceled because of disagreement on a number of areas. But I want to talk now about the Olympics and the gay rights issue. Richard Socarides was an adviser to President Clinton on a number of important issues including gay rights. He's here to talk about the Olympics.

Richard, it's so great to have you. First of all, I want to talk about what Russian officials are now saying because some are seeming to walk back some of their comments on what this ban means. Let me read you a quote here. They said, "The law is not intended to limit or violate the rights of citizens of any country, any religion or any preferences. The law is against propaganda among the under aged."

Another quote there, "I was in Sochi yesterday. All the athletes and organizations should be relaxed. They will be protected." What do you think? Are you convinced? Are the Russians trying to smooth things over?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, it's not very assuring really in any way. I mean, the nature of the law is so vague so as to outlaw what the legislation refers to as propaganda. You could basically be arrested at any point for doing anything. I think surely it is in the Russians' interest to say there is no problem here. But there's an enormous problem here. First of all, respect to athletes and visitors, but also with respect to the human rights violations on their citizens. I mean, what they are trying to do is they're trying to outlaw talking about something.

BERMAN: So what should President Obama do about this? You heard him when asked about it yesterday come out against it. He's also talked about gay rights issues in several countries around the world when asked about it on stage there. But does he need to do more, particularly on this issue of the Olympics in Russia?

SOCARIDES: Well, I think he's -- I think he's certainly set the right tone already. Speaking about it in a very public way and saying that it's not something that we would tolerate in this country. And sending a clear message to the Russians that we expect them to abide by, you know, generally accepted human rights policies during the Olympics, I think, is an important -- an important first step. There's obviously a lot more to do.

I think our diplomats have a big role to play in this. I no doubt expect Secretary of State John Kerry will be speaking about it when he meets with the Russians, which is coming up very soon. The president canceled his one on one summit with President Putin. That is no doubt mostly about the Snowden episode, but I'm sure that the Olympics played a part in it.

This is going to be a big issue going forward. I expect the president, Secretary of State Kerry and our other diplomats to be actively involved in ensuring the safety not just of people at the Olympics for the Olympics, but also getting this anti-gay law in Russia changed.

BERMAN: Quickly, Richard, what do you want to see the athletes do? You want the athletes to go still?

SOCARIDES: Well, I think that a boycott really only deprives our very own athletes who have practiced and are ready to do their best having that opportunity. A boycott of the Olympics is not the way to go. I think respectful protests during the games, showing that in this country we support all of our citizens and that's the kind of human rights policies that we expect from a country like Russia, anybody hosting an Olympics, I think there is a lot. We can send a very powerful message when we're there.

BERMAN: We can go and we can win like Berlin in 1936. Richard Socarides, thank you so much for your time. It's always great to see you.

SOCARIDES: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Coming up here on THE LEAD, so you ever talk smack about your boss behind his back and assumed you wouldn't get caught and then found out someone secretly recorded it and posted it on a web site? Me neither. Find out which big campaign staffer now has a lot of explaining to do. That's next.

Later, the walk of fame got even more crowded. Are there any celebrities they'll say no to? We'll tell you who just got the latest star on the walk of fame. Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman filling in for Jake Tapper today. Our "Politics Lead," it sucks to get busted. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is running for re- election in his home state of Kentucky next year. His campaign manager is Jesse Benton who worked on Ron Paul's presidential campaign last year and he apparently isn't loving his new job. Listen.


JESSE BENTON (via telephone): I'm sort of holding my nose for two years cause what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in '16.


BERMAN: Yes, holding my nose. Let's bring in CNN political reporter, Peter Hamby to hash all this out. Peter, first of all, explain to us who Jesse Benton is and what he's saying here?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Really the only surprising thing about this is that it was caught on tape. Jesse is a Ron Paul guy as we mentioned. He managed Ron Paul's campaign in 2012, his son Rand Paul's Senate campaign in 2010. He worked for Rand Paul in 2008. He is married to Ron Paul's granddaughter. He's a Ron Paul guy. He is a libertarian. McConnell brought him on to sort of build bridges to the conservative movement.

Close political watchers kind of assumed this was a marriage of convenience in Kentucky. So it's not exactly that surprising that he's sort of privately lukewarm about doing this. The big story here is that he got busted -- John.

BERMAN: Big time. So this was recorded apparently months ago, Peter. Who recorded it and why are they releasing it now?

HAMBY: Yes. This was recorded by a conservative activist by the name of Dennis Fusaro who's a former Paul aide who is actually on a separate crusade to kind of prove that the Ron Paul people bribed a state senator in Iowa during the caucuses in 2012 to get him on board on their campaign and this was sort of caught in the dragnet of a bunch of recordings released this week, John. So this is though proving to be the biggest news out of the recordings so far.

BERMAN: Jesse Benton not quitting, sticking as campaign manager.

HAMBY: That's right. He's saying he's truly sick that he was caught on tape doing this and he says I believe in Senator McConnell and I'm 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014. That's Jesse being sincere, apparently -- John.

BERMAN: Even if he has to hold his nose the whole time. Peter Hamby, thank you so much for this.

I want to bring in our political panel to talk about this. Get a little more detail. Ross Douthat is a CNN contributor and op-ed columnist for the "New York Times." Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor and Jonathan Martin is the national political correspondent for "The New York Times."

Jonathan, let me start with you. How in the world is Jesse Benton staying on as campaign manager? He said he's holding his nose.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Right. I think this episode illustrates two important elements in modern American politics. The first one is, the rise of a super staffer in the case of Benton who as Peter mentioned is married to the granddaughter of Ron Paul. He's got leverage here because the fact is, Mitch McConnell, a veteran U.S. senator, the Senate minority leader, needs this staffer badly because he's a bridge to Rand Paul and the Paul universe.

Mitch McConnell already has a primary opponent on the right. He cannot afford to alienate the Paul world by dumping the staffer overboard he would do just that. It's a remarkable illustration of the role of a super staffer now in American politics. The other big point it illustrates, John, is this. The Tea Party's rise and near dominance now in the Republican Party.

The fact that a powerful senator like Mitch McConnell, well funded, 10 million bucks in the bank, the fact he so needs the Tea Party on his side that he has a staffer here criticizing him on tape and he's not dumping him, tells you all you have to know about the role in today's GOP of the Tea Party. BERMAN: Ross, let me ask you to follow up on this. You're a conservative columnist. What do you make of all of this? What does it say about where Mitch McConnell stands right now?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I agree completely with Jonathan. I think it's unimaginable that somebody with Mitch McConnell's level of power and influence in Washington, D.C., within the Senate, would have to put up with somebody that, you know, frankly, I imagine nobody watching TV right now has even heard of, badmouthing him, getting caught and then not resigning.

It's just sort of -- it's sort of a staggering statement about the power of the grassroots within the party right now and the need to sort of perpetually fend off challenges from the right. The other thing that's interesting, this is an example of sort of Paul world. Not just the world around Senator Rand Paul, but the sort of world around his father's presidential campaign, very serious and sincere activists and so on being, again, not quite ready for primetime.

We had this controversy recently surrounding a Rand Paul aide who has written neo confederate things as a blogger in South Carolina and so on. One of the challenges for Rand Paul looking forward to the 2016 race that obviously Jesse Benton is already looking forward to, he needs to -- even though this illustrates his power, it also illustrates sort of the fact that people in those circles make mistakes, right? More seasoned campaigned staff wouldn't, I think.

BERMAN: Donna, can I switch to the Democrats here, an issue that is affecting at least one Democratic senator? Tom Harkin of Iowa made some comments or was discussing a situation, which a lot of people found frankly startling. He was talking about why he thought that President Obama could not get more support in the Senate. Listen to what Senator Harkin said.


SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: One senator got up from a southern state and said you've got to understand that to my people down here, Obama seems like he is exotic.


BERMAN: Senator Harkin was making those statements to the "Des Moines Register." What do you think about that, that the senator heard something like that? That something like that went on in the U.S. capitol?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I can tell you what I would have done. I would have challenged that senator, that southern senator. I would have challenged him and said what the hell are you talking about? To say the word exotic, that's a dog whistle. President Obama has -- has reached out to Republicans from the north, to the south. I think Senator Harkin should have challenged him.

The notion that they laughed after the senator made those comments, that's reprehensible. So I'm out raged by it. I think it's stupid. It doesn't even in my judgment. It doesn't even meet the standard test that we should give to all our politicians, which is if somebody say something wrong, you talk about it. You speak out. He should have challenged him.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Donna Brazile, Ross Douthat, Jonathan Martin, thank you guys so much. Great to see you even if it is long distance.

So hail to the NFL franchise from Washington, D.C. doesn't sound quite right, does it? But one online magazine just dropped the name Redskins from its vocabulary. So will the NFL care? Our "Sports Lead" is next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. In the "Sports Lead," the words touchdown Redskins feels like a slap in the face to a certain section of the population. No, I'm not talking about cowboys fans. I'm talking about Native Americans. For months now a group of congressmen have been pressing the NFL and Redskins owner Dan Snyder to drop the name, claiming it is offensive. It's racist. It's derogatory.

Now the debate is picking up steam again today thanks to The online magazine now says it will no longer refer to Washington's NFL team as the Redskins. Saying, quote, "Americans think differently about race and the language of race than we did 80 years ago. In public discourse we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits. No one would refer to Asians as yellow skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years."

Josh Levin is sports editor from "Slate" who co-wrote and edited the article. Josh, thank you so much for being with us. Josh, first of all, don't take this the wrong way. I love me some Slate. I don't read it for the football coverage. I think a lot of people don't read it for the football coverage. So what kind of a difference can this stance you're taking really make?

JOSH LEVIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "SLATE": Well, first of all, you should read it for the football coverage, but it's sort of like you're a racist aunt at the dinner table. For a long time you tolerate what she says. She's from a different era. You know, she's from a different time. But at a certain point you kind of have to say, you know, this is past its time. We don't speak this way anymore. We don't say the term redskins. It's just something that's not said. This name should have been eradicated years ago. You know, we are continuing to put it in print then we're abetting this problem.

BERMAN: The owner, Dan Snyder, says we'll never change the name. It's that simple, never. He says you can use caps when you say that, never. So if he's not going to change the name, how then might it be changed?

LEVIN: I think we need to think about marginalizing Dan Snyder. And the more people agree that this nickname is something we shouldn't who is now the president of the Green Bay Packers saying that the name is derogatory. More people inside the NFL and more people outside the NFL and once we get more people like that, I think Dan Snyder will look even smaller than he already is.

BERMAN: The history of the word, it not something a lot of people know. What did your research teach you about where this came from?

LEVIN: Yes, I mean, there are linguist who have studied this and it's actually not as derogatory as some people would have you believe. It is used sometimes way back in the day as not derogatory. In the century, it was described as cheating Indians and very negative terms and as in other words changed in the language over time. It's become more and more offensive. The only place you really see it now is in the NFL standings.

BERMAN: If it does change, let's hope they don't change it to the Wizards because that was a really bad move. Josh Levin,, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate it is an important issue, one worthy of discussion.

It's 52 minutes after the hour, celebrities, they get to do a lot of things, private islands, red carpets, clothing lines. The tastiest one, we'll tell you, that's coming up next.


BERMAN: In the "Pop Lead," like peanut butter and jelly, baseball and hot dogs, enjoying music and a drink together is a time-honored tradition. Now bands are providing the tunes and the booze, even boy bands are getting in on it, boy bands that are now all grown up.


BERMAN (voice-over): The beat is invigorating, the harmony inspiring, the chorus intoxicating, but if you can't achieve that musical buzz from Hanson's music call Mmm-buff, why not try out Hanson's Mmm-hops. That's the name for Hanson's new beer due out this fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's a natural connection between drinking beer and watching live music.

BERMAN: That and according to members of the band --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty good.

BERMAN: It isn't a stretch to say alcohol historically fits somewhere under the umbrella of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. So it shouldn't be a surprise that many musicians have tried to shift from rock to Amberbach, if you will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How delicious can make a chardonnay?

BERMAN: Dave Matthews challenged himself to make dreaming tree wines. Shouldn't have been too hard, right? After all, Dave told us -- if you don't like love, make sure it's obvious like with motor head's brand "Bastards Lager," distributed straight from hell. And Iron Maiden has Trooper, named after the song. Marilyn Mansen launched Mansen in 2007, of course he did and Pharrell Williams made cream with a Q liquor and sold the strawberry flavor like a chimp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sweet, I feel like it goes along in the moment, and the peach does the same thing but in a peachy way.

BERMAN: This is Diddy marketing a drinking game with Mark Wahlberg on "Ellen." Diddy's vodka sold more than 2 million cases in the U.S. last year. Cheers, but back to beer. It seems like artists have just scratched the surface. How about Tears for Fears trying stout, stout, let it all out. Christopher Cross not sailing but ailing and the Village People not YMCA but My IPA, take that, Hansen.


BERMAN: Where is Tears for Fears when need them? Check out the white wine that Drew Barrymore created in honor of her family or Brangelina's much in demand Rose. If you're watching calories, there's nothing like "Real Housewife" Bethenny Frankel's skinny Margarita.

In other celebrity news, Sylvester Stallone hasn't hit anyone this hard since he knocked Mr. T out in Rocky 3 this time his fist is his Twitter account. This is what he tweeted about Bruce Willis not being in the next "Expendables" movie. He wrote, "Willis out, Harrison Ford in, great news. Been waiting for this for years." He also wrote, "Greedy and lazy, a sure formula for career failure."

Yikes, Stallone apparently is a bit peeved that Willis wanted more money for "Expendables 3" and that made him expendable, so to speak. One source says Willis wanted an extra million dollars for four days of work so Sly say bye. Stallone is credited with the movie's story and screen play, as well as having that fabulous starring role.

He has starred in everything from "The Fast and Furious" to "Fast 5" and "Fast and Furious 6." With range like that, how is it possible that Vin Diesel does not have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame? Well, that is about to change along national over, on August 26, Vin Diesel will get his very own star. If Judge Judy can get a star, so should the guy who voiced the iron giant.

That is all for "THE LEAD." I'm John Berman filling in for Jake Tapper. Now for a guy who deserves many stars, I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks very much.