Do Bob Filner Or Christine Beatty Have Any Defenders?

Oct 16, 2013

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we'll meet two award-winning photojournalists being honored in a new National Geographic exhibition, "Women of Vision." They'll share their stories from the field, and they'll talk about how why being a woman can sometimes be an advantage in war zones as well as a liability. That's coming up.

But first, we want to take a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women commentators and journalists get a fresh cut on the week's hot topics. Sitting in the chairs this week are Emma Coleman Jordan. She is a professor of law at Georgetown University. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media - that's a conservative libertarian news and commentary site - with us in Washington, D.C. along with Danielle Belton, editor-at-large for Clutch Magazine. And with us from New York is Jeannine Amber. She's the senior writer for Essence magazine. Welcome to everybody. Welcome to everybody. Thanks so much for joining us.

DANIELLE BELTON: Thanks for having us.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel.

JEANNIE AMBER: Hello.

EMMA COLEMAN JORDAN: Great. I'm delighted.

MARTIN: So we want to talk about a subject that just broke in the news - the former San Diego mayor, Bob Filner. You might remember that earlier this year, he stepped down from office after at least 17 women - to be frank with you, I've lost count - publicly accused him of sexual harassment in a variety of modes, you know. Well, yesterday, he pled guilty to three criminal charges, including felony false imprisonment, misdemeanor counts of battery. He's going to serve probation for three years, but as part of the plea agreement, he can never run for public office again. And, Bridget Johnson, you were saying you think that this is political overtones, or is it undertones?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Yeah, because, I mean, the minute I saw this plea agreement, I was thinking of Marsellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction," you know, saying, once you're gone, you stay gone or you be gone. And I think that that's really how they're looking at Filner right now. He held on for so long. It was six weeks of resistance as these new charges came up, and each one was more lurid than the next. And yet, he had just three counts brought against him - you know, possible five years in prison. That's just enough to put the fear of God into him and to get him to accept this plea deal that has this glaring proviso - you cannot run for public office again.

MARTIN: What are you saying? I mean, are you saying that should not have been part of it, that you think that the criminal justice system shouldn't address the question of whether you run for office again or do you think that he should have done jail time? I guess I'm not sure.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Are you saying it's too lenient or too harsh?

JOHNSON: No, I just think it was something that was very appreciated by the party. You know, I think that he obviously could have gotten more charges against him. He obviously could have gotten some jail time in the whole bargain of it. But I think that ultimately, it did have this political overtone of, we just want you to go away. Just go away in your little corner.

MARTIN: OK.

JOHNSON: Don't bother us.

JORDAN: No, I don't think...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Professor Jordan. Just for folks who might not remember this, you were part of a team of lawyers who volunteered to assist Anita Hill when she was subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee some time ago. And you've studied this area in the years since. Tell us more. What's your take on this?

JORDAN: My take is that a number of things have changed in the 18 years since Packwood was asked to resign from the Senate. The situation was different then. First of all, Packwood spent three years dragging it out and stonewalling. The decision-makers who made the decision about what penalties he should have were quite different than in the case of Filner. In Filner's case, we have two women prosecutors - a Republican San Diego DA had to recuse herself because she had run against Filner and lost for the mayoral job.

Then, Attorney General - a woman - Kamala Harris is the one who negotiated this plea for the felony, the misdemeanor and the disqualification from further office. The duration of the public spectacle is a measure of how focused the general population is on the harm that is done from this kind of behavior, and yet they suppressed six months instead of three years. So it was only six months of stonewalling and public cries of lynch mob by Filner. You remember that lynch mob...

MARTIN: But he doesn't seem to have had any defenders. I mean, that's one of the interesting things about this is that - about this case is that in the cases that I think we know well, like Clarence Thomas, certainly, who, you know, allegations emerged that he had behaved inappropriately with women who were in his employ, not just Anita Hill, but, you know, a number of others. And then, a few were saying the Republican senator, Bob Packwood - you know, in this instance, I don't see - was anybody defending him other than himself?

BELTON: I didn't...

MARTIN: No.

JORDAN: I didn't see any public defenders. And it's so interesting, with Packwood - just to go back a minute about that - one of his defenders was Larry Craig, who you might know as the senator from Idaho who was arrested for lewd conduct in a public bathroom. He did not resign. He served out the end of his term. But Larry Craig was one who gave a weeping kind of departure when Packwood resigned. Larry Craig was on the ethics committee that was chaired by Mitch McConnell in that period in 1995.

So it was a bipartisan effort. Bryan from Nevada was a part of that committee as well - the vice chair. So McConnell, Republican - Bryan, Democrat. So it was a bipartisan effort. But Larry Craig, who later came to his own demise, was one of the few on the committee who wanted to restrict the scope of the inquiries - that he didn't want the committee to ask for those private diaries, which turned out to be a little problem because Packwood had altered the diaries before he turned them over...

MARTIN: OK. OK.

JORDAN: ...As evidence.

MARTIN: OK. Danielle, what do you want to say about this?

BELTON: I think what really just kind of disgusts me in the case of Filner is that he essentially tried to make it sound like this lynch mob was after him. He was so defiant that he hadn't done anything wrong. And yet the first thing he does, when he's able to plead out, like, oh, I'm going to plead guilty and take this lesser charge here. And it's just like - it's just disgusting to me because, again, I don't feel like he's being punished enough. I mean, so he doesn't get to run for office again. So what?

I mean, other people who've done similar things did do prison time. Other people who've, like, done some of the horrible things some of these women have described, basically being held by them, being forced to do things they didn't want to do, him forcing himself on them - like, these are crimes. And the fact that he - because he's in this political position, because he had some power, he's basically able to shake down the city for legal fees - to sit there and say, pay my legal fees and I'll finally go, even though I obviously did this, but I'm going to act like I didn't. And then, as soon as I get a deal that seems favorable to me, yeah, OK, sure, yeah, I did it. Like, that's deplorable.

JORDAN: OK, there's...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Emma.

JORDAN: There's a power calculus in all of this that's a part of how these plea dynamics work. And his power calculus was he was in office, and he didn't have to step down because he hadn't been convicted. And the other part of the power calculus is when the attorney general of the state of California steps forward to do the prosecution personally, it means your time is up, buddy. It's time to move on. And the terms that she negotiated were somewhat slightly favorable, but there are conditions, including he gets house arrest, he has to get mental health care, he is losing his pension for a period of time related to the allegations. So this is a very carefully crafted plea agreement that includes the felony charge and the disqualification from office and the fines. So I think it's a carefully crafted effort...

MARTIN: Yeah.

JORDAN: ...To say you're accountable.

MARTIN: OK.

JORDAN: Interestingly enough, he never spoke a word of apology in court. He left his lawyers to say he is sorry, but he never personally uttered those words.

MARTIN: Let...

JORDAN: So there's still a bit of denial.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are having our visit to the Beauty Shop. We're catching up on the week's news with Danielle Belton of Clutch Magazine, Bridget Johnson of PJ Media, Professor Emma Coleman Jordan of Georgetown Law Center and Jeannine Amber of Essence magazine. So while we're on the topic of politicians behaving badly, Jeannine, let's talk about former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick. Last week, he was sentenced to 28 years for various counts of corruption. Back in 2009, his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, spent time in jail for lying under oath about having an affair with Kilpatrick.

Now, I mean, a lot of people thought, well, Kwame Kilpatrick, you know, so what? You know, why isn't he in jail already? Well, one of the parties we have not heard from, we finally have heard from now, and that's Beatty. And she wrote a very interesting piece, I think, about the affair for Essence magazine's November issue. So, Jeannine, tell us a little bit more about this, and why do you think that this was an important piece for Essence to publish?

AMBER: You know, it's interesting because Christine Beatty, like many of the women who are involved in these kind of sex scandals with politicians, we don't hear from them. So after she was released from prison, after she served her time, she just disappeared. And so she's come back now to tell us, this is my side of the story. And what she, I think, very interestingly points out is that the women in these situations are vilified, and the men are forgiven. So when we have a politician, you know, he often - I mean, we're talking about Filner...

MARTIN: Wait. How is he forgiven? He's going to be 70 years old before he sees the light of day again. So, I mean, I don't know.

AMBER: Yes, but that's not...

MARTIN: That's a...

AMBER: That's not...

MARTIN: ...Strange kind of forgiveness.

AMBER: I'm talking about specifically in this sexting scandal. He got out. He served his time and then walked into a six-figure job. You know, we had...

JORDAN: But what waits for him in sentencing?

MARTIN: OK, well...

JORDAN: What do you think?

MARTIN: But wait. So, Jeannine, so anyway, what was her point? Her point is that there's a double standard and that women pay a higher price...

AMBER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...For their involvement in this kind...

AMBER: Yeah.

MARTIN: Of behavior. Do you agree? Jeannine, I'm asking your opinion.

AMBER: Well, you know, I mean...

MARTIN: Do you feel comfortable giving it?

AMBER: When she was working on this piece, this was when Weiner had entered the mayoral election. Now, before those next set of sexting allegations came out, he was the forerunner. So, you know, I think that makes her point very well is that men can really bounce back from this, but the women don't. And I think that there's a precedent that sort of says that this is true. I mean, we have our politicians they - everybody from Eliot Spitzer to Clinton - have been able to come back.

MARTIN: Danielle...

BELTON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, Danielle, what do you think? Go ahead.

BELTON: Well, I feel like a lot of this has to do with men in power. I mean, if you're in a position of power and you happen to be male and you get involved in a sex scandal, typically, if you're able to apologize and figure out some way out of it, you can, you know, bounce back. I mean, we've seen politicians bounce back from it and have second careers and move on to bigger and better things, and whereas the women just kind of, like, disappear into the annals of history. I mean, you look at someone like, you know, Monica Lewinsky who basically can't show her face anywhere, even though she was a minor part of this larger scandal that involved former President Clinton. So I feel like historically that is the case, but I feel like Kwame Kilpatrick doesn't fit the mold of some of these other male politicians who were able to bounce back 'cause he wasn't.

JOHNSON: No.

AMBER: Yeah, but see, the thing about Kilpatrick is that it wasn't just the sexting that he was involved in.

MARTIN: That's true. That's true.

AMBER: What he was prosecuted on were charges that go far beyond the scope of having this affair.

MARTIN: But she was also lying under oath. I mean, she perjured herself under oath. She gave this kind of belligerent and adamant defense of her conduct, claiming that this was not true at all, and it was a complete lie. I mean, you don't think she should pay some price for that?

AMBER: I think she did pay some price.

MARTIN: Emma...

AMBER: She served three...

JORDAN: Well...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Emma. Go ahead, Emma. You wanted to say something. Go ahead.

JORDAN: Yeah, I think, you know, I don't want to be the skunk at the garden party here, but before we jump to her defense, you've got to remember that she was a married woman who was having an affair with a married man who was living with his wife. No one tricked her. No one used her fingers to make those texts. And I really think that this is a zone of accountability among women that when you step out into someone else's marital zone with a man who is in residence with his wife and you are in residence with your husband, there are moral accountabilities.

Now it turns out it also happened to lead to a crime because they triggered the Detroit Police Officers Association ire, and that's how we got on the trail of these text messages. So I just think that this revival effort that she's leading is one that is somewhat colored by her own culpability. And she's not going to fade away. She was a student at Wayne State Law School, and that's all I have to say. I'm a little bit hesitant to get in it because it's so much mess. And I'm...

MARTIN: Well...

JORDAN: ...A little bit thinking I don't want to talk about this mess. But there's a messy reality, which is that she has to be accountable, he has to be accountable and as African-American women, I really believe that we should not be advocating law of the jungle for our relations with men. We have to have some accountability for what we choose to do...

AMBER: Well, you know, I just...

JORDAN: ...Whether it's jail or public condemnation...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Jeannine.

AMBER: I want to interject and say...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Jeannine.

JORDAN: ...I don't know.

MARTIN: Jeannine, you have one more point on this.

AMBER: I just want to say I don't think she in any way is saying that what she did was OK. And she definitely was held accountable. She served time. She was forced to drop out of law school. She had to leave her family and her two daughters to go to serve her term, and her career has never recovered. She still doesn't have full-time employment. So I don't think this is an issue of her saying, you know, I didn't deserve to be punished, what I did wasn't wrong. I think she's saying, it's been all of these years, I served my time, I am sorry and now can I move on with my life. And that's what she's taking away.

MARTIN: Bridget, do you want a piece of this? What do you think? Or you want to stay out of the mess like Emma said, oh, this is a mess, I don't want to be in it.

JOHNSON: I would just caution her against how Monica Lewinsky tried the Vanity Fair article, the reality show, the Jenny Craig endorsement, all that stuff, and she was not able to rebuild her life until she just stopped giving the interviews, just kind of, you know, faded away into the past and let the blue dress be in the past. And I think that's what...

JORDAN: Well, let the substantive work speak for her. If she does graduate from law school and becomes a lawyer doing good deeds, that would be important. The picture of her in the Essence is one of a sexy-looking siren. That's not the picture of a lawyer on the path to rehabilitation. So she's trying to capitalize on the sexual content of her scandal.

MARTIN: OK, well, we only have a minute and a half left, and I just want to bring in one more issue. We need to talk about shoes. I'm sorry. It is important to some of us. The shoe designer Christian Louboutin is now offering a - even saying nude pump kind of irritates me - but it's offering a nude pump that doesn't assume that the only color of nude is, like, fleshy pink. It comes in five different shades to match various skin tones. According to the website, the shoes, quote, disappear like magic and become a fluid extension of the women's legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette. Now those magical red bottoms are going to run you about $625. But, ladies, are they worth it? Danielle, I'll ask you. Are they worth it?

BELTON: Well, I probably would not spend $625 on a shoe. But I would spend maybe $50 on a nice knockoff. And I think this is a good thing because the fact that you have such a high-end designer doing this, it'll cause other designers to see this is profitable. They see that women of color, like, like the fact that you can get different types of shoes...

MARTIN: OK.

BELTON: ...That they will modify their lines and follow suit.

MARTIN: Oh.

BELTON: So, it's a good thing.

MARTIN: OK. Anybody?

AMBER: It's an economic indicator, for sure.

MARTIN: Jeannine, economic indicator that what?

AMBER: Absolutely, that they're saying there are this many women of color who can afford $600 shoes that we're going to make them in all the colors.

MARTIN: Well, I'm just relieved that - it's one of my pet peeves. If I go to the store to buy some undergarments, that is not my nude. Their nude is not my nude. So I'm just saying, it's one of my pet peeves. So there you are. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. Danielle Belton is editor-at-large for Clutch Magazine. They both were with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Emma Coleman Jordan is a professor of law at Georgetown University, with us from her home office. Jeannine Amber is senior writer for Essence magazine, with us from our bureau in New York. Ladies, thank you all so much.

AMBER: Thanks, Michel.

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