Barbershop: The Cosby Case, Men Interrupting Women And The Alex Jones Interview

Jun 17, 2017
Originally published on June 17, 2017 7:26 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


And now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we sit down with a group of interesting people to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Joining us for our shape-up this week are Susan Chira of The New York Times. She's a senior correspondent and editor and is reporting now on gender issues. She's with us from our New York studios. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN CHIRA: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: Eric Deggans is NPR's TV critic. He joins us from St. Petersburg, Fla. Eric, thank you so much for joining us.


MARTIN: And NPR editor Ahmad Omar. He edits this program. Ahmad, thanks for taking four steps down the hall to come into the studio.

AHMAD OMAR, BYLINE: You know, it was a tough job but, you know, you're welcome, looking forward to it.

MARTIN: At least you didn't need directions, right? So as we talked about this earlier this hour, after five days of deliberations, a jury in Philadelphia could not reach a verdict on whether the comedian Bill Cosby drugged and assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004. And as we heard, the district attorney says that he's going to retry the case. But there's so much to talk about now.

And, Susan, you've been writing about this for The New York Times. And you pointed out that all this is taking place when allegations of sexual assault or harassment have touched Fox News, the Trump campaign, you might even say both political campaigns if you consider the way the Trump campaign brought back up with the questions about Bill Clinton's conduct, then there's Uber, all the incidents on college campuses.

And you said that in a way, the Cosby trial was also a trial about how society grapples with the combustible questions of power, predation and due process that complicate he-said-she-said narratives. And you said that the jury is still out. But as a person who follows this closely, I'm wondering if you feel you learned anything from this latest chapter in this ongoing story?

CHIRA: Yeah. I think I learned a lot about the real tension between the issues of how you fairly establish credibility and what the line is when you believe women, when you don't, what memory does when you're trying to recall events preceding around and after sexual assault and why it's really hard according to legal experts to successfully prosecute cases that are he-said-she-said cases.

What's interesting about this one is that, as people said in the program preceding, there have been so many other women who have accused Bill Cosby of a similar M.O. but only one case was admitted to trial. And that's because a lot of people argued that a lot of these accusations were settled, they weren't proven. To introduce them might be prejudicial. There are all kinds of legal challenges. And they're all kinds of questions about who we believe and why.

MARTIN: Ahmad, you know, I think that - people might think this happened in part because of the high-profileness (ph) of it, the celebrity, you know, kind of clouded people's judgment or at least affected people's judgment. You know, you've been reporting on that. Do you think that that might be so?

OMAR: Well, actually, our colleague David Schaper, who we heard from earlier, he's done some reporting on this this week on all these cases. And the reporting that he did kind of indicates that it's not really about the high-profile nature.

And about 3 to 6 percent of cases - criminal cases - end up hung. And the biggest issue really is evidence being closely balanced. In other words, neither side really has a slam dunk. So that's the biggest predicting factor. And they don't really see evidence of high-profile cases being more susceptible to this sort of thing.

MARTIN: You know, Eric, what do you think about this? I mean, given that, you know, the whole question of the celebrity factor and also what Susan was writing about, the cultural moment where this is being talked about again, you know, what are your thoughts about it?

DEGGANS: Well, I think we're seeing two different things happen here. One thing that's interesting to me about Cosby is that this all - this stuff all became public, like, almost 10 years ago. Andrea Constand made her allegations when this act supposedly happened in 2004 and then sued him in 2005. And several women came forward then. There was reporting done on it. And then we all got cultural amnesia about it or something, and people forgot that it happened.

And then when Hannibal Burress, a comic, joked about it in a viral video just a few years ago, it brought it all back, pulled everything back into public view. And we had a very different reaction to it. And so what's interesting to me is that now that these allegations have come forward in a different time, there's much more belief accorded to the women who are making these allegations.

Women are coming forward in much greater numbers than they did 10 years ago to tell their stories. And - but all of that, I think, is weighted against - it's obvious there are a lot of people who still want to believe Bill Cosby. And even now, you know, I've talked to some people, some journalists - columnists, rather - who are skeptical and think, you know, is this some way of bringing down a successful black man at the end of his career? So I do think celebrity is having an impact on this.

MARTIN: You know, talk about another thing that kind of is part of the cultural moment. There was another story in the news this week, this one from Capitol Hill. There was a high-profile Senate intelligence committee hearing where Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified. And this was the moment that kind of lit up social media. Here it is. Let's play that clip.


KAMALA HARRIS: Sir, I'm not asking about the principle. I'm asking when you knew that you would be asked these questions...

JEFF SESSIONS: Well, I'm unable to answer the question.

HARRIS: ...And you would rely on that policy, did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for your refusing to answer the majority of questions that have been asked of you?

JOHN MCCAIN: Chairman, the witness should be allowed to answer the question.

RICHARD BURR: Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing. Senator Harris, let him answer.

MARTIN: Now that, of course, was California Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat, being cut off by Republican Senators John McCain and Richard Burr. Now, what I think got a lot of people's attention is the fact that this is the second time that Senator Harris had been cut off by her colleagues and also that male colleagues had interrupted the witness who had not been admonished by the chair.

So, you know, Sue, you wrote a piece for The Times citing another example of this over at Uber. You've actually done extensive reporting on this about who gets to interrupt who, so why don't you tell us what you have to say about that?

CHIRA: Well, let's just say social media lit up because there isn't a woman possibly that I've ever talked to in my entire life who hasn't experienced being cut off by a man. And this is a universal experience. And what I wanted to do was find out, is this gut feeling that this happens to us all the time real? And I started doing some research into what studies had been done.

And I found that, in fact, there's a lot of academic research that affirms this experience that a lot of women know and feel. And a number of researchers have actually looked at things like minutes of school board meetings, or they assembled actual decision-making experimental groups, groups of five. And then they vary the number of women in the group. And as long as the women are in the minority, men interrupt them more. Men talk over them and dominate the conversation. And that only changes when it's almost all women.

So they were able to control for the effect of being outnumbered. And even other researchers have looked at the U.S. Senate, and they've seen that powerful men talk more than women, but powerful women don't talk more than powerful men. So there are a number of research experiments and observations that have confirmed this experience.

MARTIN: And Ahmad and Eric are just absolutely not going to interrupt now 'cause they're both like...

OMAR: I was so close to making a joke. I was going to jump in.

MARTIN: I know you were, but you knew better. But you knew better.

OMAR: I was just going to let you guys finish.

MARTIN: Ahmad, I was going to say - OK, Ahmad, fess up. Have you ever interrupted - have you been accused of this?

OMAR: Oh, yeah. But now, at least there's science behind it, so I don't feel bad about it.

DEGGANS: Can I interrupt him?

OMAR: No, no, no. Hold on. Let me finish here, all of you guys.

DEGGANS: I'm going to let you finish first.

OMAR: I was telling Michel that I've been interrupting everybody, male and female, about tomorrow's India versus Pakistan cricket match. There's, like, supposed to be a billion people watching, and no one in America seems to care. But I keep interrupting anyway.

MARTIN: Well, you care. But I will say that I do not want the fact that we are having a light conversation about this to - and I'm even - and now I'm kind of wondering whether the fact that we are tempted to joke about it, is that something in itself that we should be thinking about? Like, what does that mean? Is it because we as women don't want men to be uncomfortable, so therefore we're going to make a joke to, I mean...

DEGGANS: Well, this is Eric, if I could jump in.

MARTIN: Go ahead. You may.

DEGGANS: And I - one of the things that bothers me the most about this dynamic is men being silent when other men do this to women. And that - I will fess up that I have been in situations where I've seen this happen and been so kind of shocked that I just haven't stepped up to defend the woman's right to speak.

And so I think one of the things we as men have to take from these situations is that it's up to us to step in when we see this happening and stop it. I mean, you know, John McCain, he wasn't even - he was there as like an ex-officio member of the committee, I think. He wasn't even really there to ask questions.


DEGGANS: Why is he stepping in and telling her what to do?


DEGGANS: And why didn't other men on that committee step up?

MARTIN: Now, Ahmad, very briefly because I want to - we have one more story to talk about.

OMAR: Yeah. I just heard - a lot of people that I was talking about this yesterday kind of referred me to - I guess there was some articles written about the Obama White House. And a lot of the women decided that they were going to amplify their voices by kind of backing each other up as another way to kind of combat that.

CHIRA: That's exactly right.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, there is this other big media story that we are paying attention to because tomorrow NBC's expected to air an interview conducted by their newest host, Megyn Kelly, formerly of Fox News and Alex Jones. Now, he's the host of that far-right conspiracy theorizing show Infowars known for alleging that the terrorist attacks on September 11 were an inside job and that the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a fraud.

This has been - the interview hasn't even aired yet, and already there's huge controversy about it. Some people say that it shouldn't be happening at all. And now it turns out that Alex Jones recorded his prior conversations with Megyn Kelly, saying that, you know, she - that she wasn't going to ask him gotcha questions. And so for - so everyone here in this conversation has been an editor at some point, has some kind of responsibility for putting things on the air. So I just want to ask you briefly, should this be happening at all? Ahmad, do you want to answer that?

OMAR: The interview itself?


OMAR: I mean, I think there's some value to hearing it because, you know, it's such a - he's such a big figure now. There are a lot of people who are listening to him, so there's value in digging in. As far as the pre-interview comments, it's hard to say, you know, what he might have edited, so it's tough to judge. Obviously, he's saying it's taken out of context. The thing is going to be on tomorrow, so we'll see.

MARTIN: Sorry to interrupt...

OMAR: Please, go ahead.

MARTIN: ...But have to. Sue, final thought from you?

CHIRA: Yes. I do believe that, you know, noxious people still need to be interviewed so we understand what they're about. And as Ahmad said, I wonder about exactly what the full context was of the pre-interview. But it - I understand there's a great deal of pain experienced by Sandy Hook families and others who find him so toxic.

MARTIN: Eric, final thought? Ten seconds.

DEGGANS: Megyn Kelly has learned the hard way that when you interview a demagogue who's adept at manipulating the media, you have to be very careful.

MARTIN: All right. More to come, I'm sure. That's Susan Chira of The New York Times, Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic, and Ahmad Omar, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED editor. Thank you all so much.

OMAR: Thank you.

CHIRA: Thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.