MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we talk with a group of interesting folks about what's in the news and what's on their minds. In the chairs for a shape-up this weekend are Bridget Johnson. She's the Washington editor for the conservative online news site PJ Media. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C., studios.
Bridget, welcome back. Happy Fourth.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Happy Fourth to you, well, almost. We're almost there.
MARTIN: Almost. Paul Butler's a professor of law at Georgetown University. He's a former federal prosecutor. He's with us from our bureau in New York. Paul Butler, welcome back to you, as well.
PAUL BUTLER: What's up, Michel? Woof, woof.
MARTIN: OK. Also with us from New York is Anna North. She's an editor with The New York Times editorial board, and she writes The Times' "This Week In Hate" blog. Anna, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome.
ANNA NORTH: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So yes, a lot of things are going on in the world, but we just, you know, for sheer watercooler, we just have to talk about this Twitter exchange between President Trump and the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. You know, President Trump calling them crazy and psycho. And then he tweeted what he said was Brzezinski bleeding badly from a face-lift earlier this week. It just seemed to have crossed a line for a lot of people.
And, you know, Republican lawmakers who have been loath to criticize him have spoken out against this. President Trump's spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the comments as fighting fire with fire. And the reason we're - the reasons we're bringing this up is it continued today with President Trump saying, you know, calling Joe Scarborough crazy Joe and dumb-as-a-rock Mika, saying they're not bad people, but their low-rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses - too bad. And for the record, it is not low-rated.
So I just have to ask, you know, people have been talking about this and raising a lot of different issues, whether he was, you know, using the National Enquirer to threaten, whether the - and so many things. So I just wanted to ask each of you, what's the what here for you? What is the what here for you? Bridget, what do you say?
JOHNSON: You know, I think back to the campaign, when you had women telling reporters that they didn't think a woman could be president because hormones because emotions. And it's like, great, you elected a mean girl with a fluffy, you know, burn book. And the problem is not even just being how boorish he is. He's going to the G-20 summit next week. You know, if he has a problem with powerful women, he's meeting the most powerful woman in the world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Our allies expect not only a commitment to democratic values from us, leadership on those values, including respect and equality and - but they also expect stability. They expect knowing that the president of the United States is not set off by petty arguments and easily slings invective. That leads you down a really, really bad path.
MARTIN: Paul Butler, what about you?
BUTLER: We've known for years that the president of the United States is a cyberbully, a misogynist who has this thing about women and blood. So who I'm mad at right now is the 52 percent of white women who voted for Trump. I mean, ask Rosie O'Donnell, ask Megyn Kelly if they're surprised about this. Black women, Latinas, they stayed away from Trump in droves. What were white women thinking? Clearly, not about their daughters.
MARTIN: OK. Anna, what about you? What's your take on this?
NORTH: Yeah, I mean, like Paul, I was not surprised by this comment. It takes a lot to surprise me from the president anymore. What I did find sort of interesting was how kind of macabre and disgusting it was. And, you know, we do, of course, know that Trump thinks a lot about women and blood. We saw this with Megyn Kelly when he talked about blood coming from her wherever.
But this tweet did sort of speak to a strange kind of like fevered quality in his mind. And it's a little disturbing to imagine the president, you know, sitting there in the White House and imagining Mika bleeding from her face. It made me think, you know, you look inside the president's head and it's like "Carrie" in there, which is not good when he really should be thinking about the future of the country.
MARTIN: Why do you think it's - this is the thing of all the things that the president has tweeted that has crossed the line for so many people, I mean, to the point where Republican lawmakers, both men and women, are basically telling him to calm down, and this is too much and so forth? I'm just curious.
Maybe, Bridget, maybe you want to take this. Why do you think this is the thing? Do you think it's in part because he's going to the G-20 next week and what this - the concern that the allies have about this?
JOHNSON: Maybe it is so soon after the lecture on civility after Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, but it's kind of incredulous in a lot of ways because for so long, people in the Republican Party were saying, well, after the campaign maybe he'll tone down. You know, maybe it's just an act, you know, out on the road to get votes. But it's - so I think for a lot of people just kind of like this breaking point of like, oh, wait, it's not going away. He's the same.
MARTIN: So let's broaden out now to another question about the limit of acceptable discourse. And I wanted to talk about the whole question of who gets to define what's hate speech or what's a hate crime or a hate group. And part of reason we're talking about this is that Politico published an article this week taking a critical look at the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is a civil rights advocacy organization, but it also keeps an active watch list of extremist groups and individuals. A lot of media organizations report on this list.
And the writer was making the suggestion that the group is sort of overblowing the current threat posed by these groups because - and it made the suggestion that, you know, partly this is because this makes it attractive for, you know, fundraising. And I want to say that we spoke with the Southern Poverty Law Center's president, Richard Cohen, who told us that the organization's definitions of hate crimes and hate groups have not changed over its history. Let me just play a clip of that conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
RICHARD COHEN: Our criterion for those two hate groups has always been the same. You know, what we list as a hate group are groups that vilify or defame entire groups of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. Our definition of hate groups is very similar to the federal government's definition of hate crimes, right? A hate crime is a crime that's committed when the victim is selected on the basis of, you know, usually an immutable characteristic like race or ethnicity. So our listing of hate groups is parallel to that.
MARTIN: So we, you know, we only have five minutes, which is - obviously, you could teach a whole course on this, Paul Butler. But just as briefly as you can, you know, what do you make of this argument?
BUTLER: Michel, like most black people from Chicago, my folks back in the day escaped from Mississippi. And they were running away from a hate group called the Ku Klux Klan, which did things like rape women and hang folks from trees. So to me, a hate group is a violent terrorist organization, not somebody with crazy politics. I think we ought to reserve that designation for people who are vile and violent, not just dumb.
MARTIN: OK. Bridget, what about you?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, one of the people who was mentioned in that article is Rand Paul. And, you know, don't get me wrong, everyone cringed when he said that about the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, but his policies are coming from ultra-libertarianism and, you know, this rabid belief in a hands-off government. So the SPLE - SPLC has a very important role to play. I don't think that they oversell the white supremacist neo-Nazi threat, but I think that, you know, these are things that we need to come together on.
And these are alliances that you have to kind of set politics aside for. You know, we look at the world that we live in. And the world that we live in right now is that the Sikh community has had to spend more than a million dollars on an ad campaign just to convince people that they're patriotic Americans in an effort to stop the hate attacks on that community.
MARTIN: So the question - I think the criticism here is that the argument is this, that people who are raising issues in public discourse then become tagged as having - as uttering hate speech. And the SPLC he pushes back on that, saying that they, you know, that that is not the case, that it's not overbroad. It's not people who are engaging in sort of legitimate public discourse. Anna, you report on this, as well. And you, you know, the Times and ProPublica have partnered with the SPLC for some of their work. What do you think? Do you think this criticism is valid?
NORTH: Yeah. I mean, I've heard these criticisms before. And I think, of course, it's important not to, you know, tag legitimate political organizations as hate groups. That said, a lot of very hateful groups have become closer to the political mainstream recently as the alt-right has risen and has gotten, you know, more mainstream legitimacy. And that's something we need to be careful about too, not to start being accepting of ideology just because it's, you know, come out of the shadows a little bit.
I think the other thing that the SPLC is incredibly helpful is tracking not just these groups themselves but tracking people who have been victims of them and people who have been victims of hate and harassment around the country, which is a huge problem and a problem that we really don't have reliable data on. So the SPLC has been really indispensable there.
MARTIN: OK. So we only have a couple of minutes left. I cannot let this week go by without bringing up the biggest music news of the week. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KILL JAY Z")
JAY Z: (Rapping) Kill Jay Z. They'll never love you. You'll never be enough. Let's just keep it real, Jay Z.
MARTIN: That's, of course, Jay Z's new album.
BUTLER: Go Jigga. Go Jigga. Go Jigga.
MARTIN: "4:44" dropped yesterday on the streaming service Tidal. Now, if you don't have a Tidal account, that made it a little bit hard to hear, but that has not stopped the flow of think pieces. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter posts about it. So, Paul, what's your hot take?
BUTLER: Hip-hop for grown folks. You know, Michel, us brothers, we got some work to do. The worst thing you can call one of us is soft. So Jay Z goes all soft and vulnerable. He's really part of this trend. There's rappers like Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean who have also kind of been more vulnerable. Once again, Hova's leading us to the Promised Land.
MARTIN: OK. So love, big love from you, big ups (ph) from...
BUTLER: Nothing but love.
MARTIN: Nothing but love. Bridget...
BUTLER: Best rapper alive.
MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. Bridget, what do you think about the album so far?
JOHNSON: Oh, I love these guys. They've, like, set a new platinum standard for marriage therapy. You know, it's like get it off your chest on your album, I'll speak my piece on mine. I can just imagine their therapist. You know, they're like, you know, Bey, well, how do you feel when Jay leaves his underwear on the floor? She's like, I'll tell you on iTunes next week.
MARTIN: OK, for people who aren't aware, Jay Z gives his take on the marital troubles that Beyonce discussed to such a great effect in her album, "Lemonade," last year. So, Anna, what about you?
NORTH: Yeah. I think what's been really fascinating to watch is the way that Beyonce and Jay Z have been able to really control the public narrative around their marriage and their relationship. And honestly, like, I credit the influence of Beyonce enormously here. I think it's interesting that Beyonce really set the narrative with "Lemonade." And now, Jay's going to respond to it. You can also see her influence even in the title. You know, the "4:44," of course, four is a huge number for her. And she's always been this sort of genius semiotician, so.
MARTIN: Genius semiotician, that sounds like a good album. I like it. All right. That's the north She's Anna North. She's an editor for The New York Times editorial board. She writes the Times' "This Week In Hate" blog. Bridget Johnson is the Washington editor for PJ Media, a conservative online news site. Paul Butler is a professor of law at Georgetown University, a former prosecutor. Thank you all so much for joining us.
NORTH: Thanks, Michel.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
BUTLER: Woof, woof, woof.
(SOUNDBITE OF CELPH TITLED AND BUCKWILD'S "BONUS BEAT 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.