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Jewish World Review May 12, 2005/ 3 Iyar, 5765

Larry Elder

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The ‘Today’ show trashes Cosby | When Reverend Sharpton ran for president, he accused the media of racism for ignoring his candidacy. Since the word racist gets recklessly thrown around, does it also apply to the "Today" show?

Remember when the legendary actor/entertainer/philanthropist Bill Cosby said, "[I]n our cities and public schools we have 50 percent drop out. . . . No longer is a person embarrassed because they're pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child."

He urged blacks to embrace education, speak standard English and obey the law. How dare he? His comments created such a stir that last year, the "Today" show's Matt Lauer did a pro-and-con segment.

Now here's where things get interesting. Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at University of Pennsylvania, just wrote a book called "Is Bill Cosby Right?" Dyson goes after Cosby for allegedly unfairly attacking blacks. You know, the standard liberal pap about blaming the "victim," blah, blah, blah. Never mind the tragedy of babies having babies, of a 50 percent inner-city dropout rate or the disproportionately high percentage of black youth involved in crime.

So who conducted the "Today" show's interview of Michael Eric Dyson? Matt Lauer? No. Katie Couric? No. Al Roker. Nice guy, but what does this say about how seriously the "Today" show considers the problems facing the black community?

The Roker-Dyson interview was wild. You couldn't help screaming at the television set for Roker to jump in, to challenge some of the silliness, something — anything. Instead, the "interview" went this way:

Al Roker: "Do you think there's any validity in some of the things he said?"

Michael Eric Dyson: "Oh sure . . . there's validity always. Tim[othy] McVeigh had a point. The state is over-reaching. But the way you do it, dropping bombs and castigating of human beings, that's terrible. . . . Let's hold the larger society accountable for creating the conditions that lead to some of the downfalls of the poor people." Roker said nothing.

Roker then read three quotes from Cosby: "Those people are not Africans; they don't know a damn thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail." Next, "All this child knows is 'gimme, gimme, gimme.' These people want to buy the friendship of a child . . . and the child couldn't care less. . . . These people are not parenting. They're buying things for the kid. $500 sneakers, for what? They won't . . . spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics." And finally, "You can't land a plane with 'why you ain't . . . ' You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth . . ."

Dyson: ". . . Black people have always been creative in naming their children. Africans name their kids after the days of the week, after conditions of their birth. Black people in 1930s gave their kids names after consumer products, Cremola, Listerine, Hershey Bar. So black naming has always been creative. I'm not worried about Shaniqua and Taliqua, I'm worried about Clarence and Condoleeza, who can hurt us in high places of power in America." Roker said nothing.

Dyson then accused Cosby of hypocrisy. After all, Cosby was a "pitchman" for "Jell-O Puddin' Pops. . . . He created artificial desire in people to spend beyond their means . . . "??!! Roker said nothing.

Dyson: So I'm speaking forth . . . on behalf of those people who are poor, because, after all, I was a teen father, lived on welfare until I was 21, then went to get a Ph.D. at Princeton, now I'm gonna have Afro-nesia [sic] and forget the people from which I've emerged? No, bro, I ain't the one." To which Roker "fired back" with this show stopper: "You know, you gotta come out of your shell."

Would Dyson have called Couric or Lauer "bro"?

Why didn't Katie or Matt do the interview? Perhaps Couric no longer feels comfortable with "contentious" subjects after she came out on the wrong end of an interview with smart and funny conservative commentator Ann Coulter. Perhaps Lauer knows that we "right-wingers" watch for signs of bias and would have demanded a forceful interview. But, if Lauer challenges too hard, he fears running the risk of being called racially insensitive. If he goes too soft, he will be accused, quite properly, of pandering and condescension.

The solution? Let Al do it. After all, he, too, is black, as are Cosby and Dyson. So what can critics say? What should Roker have done? Two options. Either rise to the level of the seriousness of the topic and conduct a real interview that challenged Dyson and enlightened viewers. Or, Roker should have said to his producer, "Cosby raised important issues, and Cosby argues that blaming racism no longer gets it. This is a serious claim and needs to be taken seriously. We insult Cosby, the issue and our audience if I do the interview rather than Katie or Matt."

In other words, "No, bro, I ain't the one."

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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