MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women journalists and commentators take a fresh cut on the week's news. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Joan Walsh. She is an editor at large of salon.com and an MSNBC political analyst. Anne Ishii is the editor-in-chief of "They're All So Beautiful." That's an online forum that looks at race and dating. Veronica Miller writes about fashion and pop culture for xoJane and thegrio.com. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian news and commentary site. Welcome back to you all, ladies. Thanks so much for joining us, once again.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thanks for having us, Michel.
ANNE ISHII: Thank you.
VERONICA MILLER: Thank you.
JOAN WALSH: Hello.
MARTIN: Alright. So let's not pretend. I mean, let's start just with a topic that we know everybody is talking about anyway. OK? TMZ, a celebrity gossip site, released video that seems to pretty clearly show Jay Z, the hip-hop mogul, being physically attacked by his wife, Beyonce's, younger sister, Solange Knowles - Beyonce of course being, you know, megastar in her own right. And Solange is also known as kind of a fashion maven, a DJ - celebrity DJ, singer.
The group was caught on a security camera leaving a Met Gala after party last weekend during what some are calling the longest elevator ride ever. Solange kicked and punched and lunged at her brother-in-law while the - one of the body guards there tried to help get the situation under control. It isn't clear what led to the altercation. And nobody in - who was immediately involved - has publicly, specifically addressed the incident - but everybody else has. So I just thought I would ask you all what your thoughts are about this. And, Joan, I'll start with you.
WALSH: Oh, thanks. I mean, I'm ambivalent about it in the sense that I think on the one hand, they've certainly made their love affair, their marriage, their sex life, their baby kind of central to their myth and to their, you know, their status as pop royalty. And so of course it kind of invites us in to gawk when things go bad.
On the other hand, I have a really hard time, you know, talking about what might have happened 'cause we just don't know. There's no audio to this video. We - there are rumors out there about what they may have been fighting about, but there is no confirmation. So, you know, it's like we all have to be gawkers. We look at traffic accidents and, you know, my mom told me to say a prayer, but as long as it said a prayer, I could look. And so I kind of feel the same way here. I hope everybody's OK, but I can't help but look.
MARTIN: Anne Ishii, what about you? What are your thoughts about this?
ISHII: Well, first of all, hotel elevators are totally sacred. So I feel like the fact that they broadcast the security camera footage is a little bit unsavory. But after giving it a little bit of thought and, you know, thinking about the other unintended released - not video, but soundtrack - of Sterling, Donald Sterling, I have to say unless - if - unless Jay Z told Solange not to bring black people to his shows, I don't think we had any business seeing that video.
MARTIN: Well, why do you say a little bit unsavory - why not a lot unsavory? I mean, a lot of people are jumping all over V Stiviano with both feet, even though they think that she, in some ways, may have done a public service by broadcasting this. They still think it's horrendous.
So why a little bit unsavory - why not a lot unsavory? Is it because they're so famous? Or is it because, like, what Joan said, that, you know, when you get to be that famous, it's almost, like, fair game unless you're in your own house?
ISHII: Well, I think, you know, for a lot of victims of certain kinds of violence or offense, it's really difficult to confront your abuser or attacker or the racist in your life or the bigot or whatever. And I have no idea what happened in that elevator, so I can't conjecture. But if it happens that there's some serious situation going on, then I think, you know, we have to sort of give carte blanche.
MARTIN: Veronica, what do you think?
MILLER: Yeah. I think the only thing that we do know is that we don't know anything at all about what happened. I think we're so fascinated by it 'cause the question is what made her so enraged that those kicks and those punches were flying in that manner? It was just kind of bizarre and, you know...
MARTIN: It could have been rum and coke. I mean, it could've been alcohol. I mean, I'm sorry - could've...
MILLER: It could have been a number of things. Right. The one thing I think we can take away from this...
MARTIN: Too many cosmos.
MILLER: Yeah, too many. I think that the one thing we can definitely take away from this is the PR machine that Beyonce is. That woman did not budge, and a lot of people are asking why. They're saying she's a robot. She doesn't care about defending her husband - yadda, yadda, yadda. No.
The reason is is that Beyonce is smart. She knows there are eyes and there are cameras everywhere, including hotel elevators, which is why when her sister starts flailing and punching and kicking, you are not going to see Beyonce - this woman who has built a million dollar industry on herself - in that Givenchy dress engaging in fisticuffs with her little sister. It's not going to happen. There are too many endorsement deals, too many tour dates, too many things on the line.
And then there's video also afterward of them emerging from the hotel which is like your standard paparazzi video. And she comes out, and she gives a smile and gets in the limo. And if we hadn't seen the elevator security camera footage, we would have never known anything happened. And I think it's just a testament to how tight the Knowles Carter brand is and trying to, you know, maintain their image and their mystique.
MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think? Bridget Johnson?
JOHNSON: I confess. I was drawn into - when TMZ is, like, we have the full-length one now. I'm, like, oh, I've got to go watch this. It was like an "Unsolved Mysteries" episode - you know? You kind of hear Robert Stack saying why did Solange, you know, attack Jay Z?
But I - the answer to that - either way it's going to compromise their privacy, just like having that video released compromised their privacy. You know, Jay did - maybe did something untoward, and Solange was defending her sister. Maybe Solange has a problem with substance abuse or mental abuse. Anything that comes out at this point is going to compromise the privacy of that family. So I think we kind of have to let go in that way.
MARTIN: You know, and one of the other things I found interesting is that, Joan, just looping back to where you started out saying that they've made their relationship so much part of their brand. I actually disagree. I think that - for example, it was years before they even - before Jay Z and Beyonce even acknowledged that they were dating. And unlike, even, a lot of couples who are not celebrities, there has never been a photo that they ever have ever released of their wedding. Their wedding was a private matter. They did not put it on Facebook. They didn't put it on Instagram. They didn't do any of that stuff.
And I just think they've been very selective about what - it's true that they have, you know, she released this documentary. But one of the things that people noted about herself last year and her tour - but one of the things a lot of people noted about it was that she really didn't tell you a whole lot that you couldn't glean from a lot of other things. I mean, it was kind of an extended music video.
The other part I find interesting is what happened to - what happened to appreciating people for having emotional control? I mean, it's as if, you know, if you're not, like, putting all your personal business in the street, that something - there's something wrong with you. But it used to be considered classy to keep your business to yourself, to keep your family's business in the house and to try to deal with your stuff privately. And so I guess I find it kind of interesting that, you know, as public figures, it's almost as if they owe us this, and, you know, they don't.
WALSH: No, I certainly don't believe. They don't - I don't believe they owe us this, at all. I would say that in the last year, I think their focus has shifted a little bit. And they've certainly let us in a little more - even just thinking about the Grammy appearance. But I certainly don't think they deserve this.
And I also, you know, I had the same reaction. On the one level - to her stoicism in that elevator - on the one level, it's remarkable. And you're, like, wow, how can she do this? But on the other, you know, she has supreme self-control, and she seems to be the only one, for certain, who might have an inkling in the back of her mind that hey, even an elevator in a fancy hotel is not a safe, private space. And so, you know, she handled herself, and she deserves credit, not blame for that.
MARTIN: One more thing I want to mention - and this one of the points that I hope she doesn't mind my mentioning this. Our editor, Alicia Montgomery, you know, raised in a kind of a conversation we were having about this is that people often talk about Jay Z for being a misogynist, especially because of his lyrics from earlier in his career - is notable that he does not defend himself or raise a hand to this young woman, you know, at all. And that his only physical reaction seems to be to try to get away or to the - and I just think that that's something to note, like, again not knowing at all what precipitated this.
But whether words or inappropriate words were exchanged or insulting, you know, what they call, you know, fighting words, under the law, were uttered. But I think that, you know, had the situation been reversed, and he slapped this young woman in the elevator or kicked her, we would certainly be having a different reaction to it.
WALSH: It would've been a no win conversation for anybody.
MARTIN: And I just feel like, yeah. I just feel like I need, you know, to point out that - you know. So that's all - so for now. I think, maybe.
If you're just joining us, we're talking about this week's hot topics with Joan Walsh of salon.com, Anne Ishii of "They're All So Beautiful," Veronica Miller of xoJane and The Grio, and Bridget Johnson of PJ Media. And we are on the topic of privacy, so I'm going to switch gears now.
We're talking about what happens behind closed doors. I want to talk about another video that's making waves for a very different reason. Emily Letts is a counselor at a women's clinic in New Jersey, and she decided that she needed to have an abortion. She decided that she would videotape it. The video lasts about three minutes. It is not graphic at all. It focuses on her face and her reactions and what she's experiencing through her eyes. But Letts says she made the video because she wanted to de-stigmatize the procedure. This video has gone viral and, as you can imagine, it has sparked many strong reactions from people on all sides of this issue.
And I'll start with you, Veronica, and I'll just ask you - if you don't mind - because as a young woman who, you know, is of - similar in age to this woman - if you found her reasons for putting it online valid?
MILLER: I found them very valid. I mean, you know, I'm 30. And I'm in this demographic where we're delaying marriage. We're delaying having children. We're delaying all these things. So we're spending a lot of our time and mental energy on thinking about birth control and how to, like, you know, live our lives and not have any surprises because we know that - you know - we might be in an unsteady economic situation, job situation, whatever.
And I think that the video is helpful because the mere thought of having to make that decision to terminate a pregnancy is terrifying for young women because of the implications of the stigma and everything. And I think that having that video kind of opens up that conversation and it allows, you know, women to see OK, you don't have to be scared. Or just - it just takes the, you know, the scariness away from thinking about having to have that procedure. And also kind of a comfort thing saying this is OK. I've done this too which I'm sure, you know, in her role as a counselor at the women's center, she's probably - has those conversations about this is OK. This is a thing that we deal with, and we have to learn how to handle.
MARTIN: OK. I need to get the other voices in here on this point 'cause I want to hear from everybody on this. Bridget, what about you?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, she is a counselor at the center where she had the abortion, and she said in an interview afterwards that she was not using birth control, and she didn't have long term partners. So that of course makes me kind of cringe. What kind of advice is she giving to women to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy?
MARTIN: But one of the points she makes in her essay about it is that she has been a hypocrite and that she is going to do better. She kind of...
MARTIN: So anyway - but your point. Yeah.
JOHNSON: But it should open up a broader conversation, you know, first of all of course, you know, every clinic that a woman is going to isn't as nice as that one. We know that from recent stories. But it also should open a conversation on the right about, you know, what should actually the message be. You know, the right needs to acknowledge people have sex - not everyone woman gets excited when she sees a positive on a pregnancy test. So there needs to be a broader conversation open about what do you do to support women who want to make this choice instead of just telling them don't.
MARTIN: Do you find it offensive as a person who does not share her political beliefs on this question? Do you find it offensive to - or - some people just, you know, as you can imagine, there's a lot of outrage about this. It was put up on a lot of pro-life sites, and you can imagine what - the vitriol that was directed at her.
MARTIN: But what - do you find it offensive?
JOHNSON: And I know there are some theories about whether or not it was authentic 'cause she did enter it in a contest afterwards, but I wouldn't say offensive as a bit disturbing. But I think that you need to take that and not just get outraged about it, but turn it into a conversation point.
MARTIN: Anne, what do you think?
ISHII: Well, I have to say as a YouTube snob, I am offended. The stylistics kind of bothered me because, you know, and then I think this is a generational thing. I kind of - I think abortion actually has to be treated as even more realistic than that because most of them are not surgical, actually. So - and it would have been nice to see a video of somebody taking pills, for example, which is how most abortions are performed. And that's not to de-stigmatize it or, you know, what ever. I personally am pro-choice. And I'd say, you know, if we're ready for night vision sex tapes, then we ought to be ready for abortion videos.
MARTIN: Joan, what do you say about this? You say you had no interest in watching it - want to tell us more about that?
WALSH: I had no interest in watching it, but I'm perfectly happy that it's out there. I think that this is a decision that's been so stigmatized and sensationalized and made into a, you know, a horrible, horrifying tragedy by the right. And there's been so much public, moral and political outrage about a private choice that I think it's great that Emily put it out there for women who may have been affected by the campaign against abortion - the campaign...
MARTIN: But you don't want to watch it yourself?
MARTIN: You feel because what? You just don't...
WALSH: I don't want to watch - I didn't feel any need to watch it. I felt like again, you know, choice is about choice. And no one's going - no one's saying I have to watch it. No one's saying Bridget has to watch it. But it's out there, and it's on YouTube, as offensive as the aesthetics may be to Anne, you know - for people to - for women or whomever to go look and see what they can learn from it. And I'm happy it's there.
MARTIN: So before we go, let me ask about another person who upset a lot of people with comments he thought were private - and seems to be our subject for today - the Donald Sterling saga continues. He sat down with Anderson Cooper earlier this week. And he made comments about Magic Johnson, saying that Magic Johnson was not a suitable role model because he has AIDS.
He also apologized for negative comments about black people, and he said he isn't a racist. We don't have time to play that clip, but I think you get the gist of it. He says he's not a racist, and I just have to ask - maybe - Joan, maybe I'll go to you first on this. And maybe, like, Veronica - thoughts about this - made it - I think I was most interested in the fact that his wife says she should not have to deal with - she should not have to be held accountable for her husband's conduct. And she should still be able to keep her share of the Clippers - and your thoughts about that?
WALSH: Well, I think that's completely wrong. I think that she deserves - if they divorce, or if they stay together - she deserves half of whatever he makes from the sale. But, you know, the NBA Ownership Constitution which we're not allowed to know about which is kind of crazy to me, you know, is allegedly very clear about, you know, him being the person who's made the agreement and thus is the person who has to abide by the agreement. And so handing it over to her is not a solution. I was also struck by, you know, he wanted us - Donald Sterling wanted us to think that V Stiviano's magic lady parts tricked him into saying these racist things. And, you know, men will say anything for sex. He seemed to be making that appeal.
And yet what he said to Anderson Cooper in public with full knowledge that it was going out to the entire country - the world - was in some ways more - was at least, let's just say, as offensive as what he said to her behind closed doors. And it just showed that this is the way he thinks about African-Americans. And that, not only would he slur and slander Magic Johnson, who I think really changed the way we thought about HIV-AIDS when he came out with his illness status when he did, but also has been a philanthropist. And, you know, it's so condescending that he can speak for who has helped African-American people, and that they don't always help each other. It was just so offensive from start to finish.
MARTIN: Veronica, I'm sorry. I don't have time for you, but I do have time to applaud you on your graduation from design school next week.
MILLER: Thank you.
MARTIN: So big shoutout to Veronica. Veronica Miller writes about pop culture and fashion for thegrio.com, with us from Philadelphia. Joan Walsh is the editor at large of salon.com. Anne Ishii is editor-in-chief of "They're All So Beautiful." That's a site that looks at race and dating. They joined us from our bureau in New York. Bridget Johnson is a Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. She joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you, ladies.
ISHII: Thanks, Michel.
WALSH: Thank you.
MILLER: Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.