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Barack Obama and Race; Pizzas For Pesos Controversy Heats Up; Anatomy of a Slur

Aired January 18, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. Thank you all for joining us tonight.
Across America, racism and intolerance lurk just below the surface. Every night, we're finding and talking about these hidden secrets, bringing them right out into the open.

Tonight: presidential race. If Senator Barack Obama runs for president, will the issues or intolerance make the bigger difference?

Also, the F-word, but not the four-letter one, the longer one. We're going to look into the anatomy of a slur and the cast of one of this country's hottest TV shows.

And pizza for pesos -- a U.S. chain cooks up controversy by letting customers pay with Mexican money. What's the big deal? Well, you will see our panel debate that.

And Barack Obama's presidential run is where we begin tonight. The Illinois senator announced this week he is taking the first step toward a campaign, forming a presidential exploratory committee. But, tonight, we're not going to debate whether the country is ready for a black president. What we're going to bring out in the open is the racial intolerance that may lie ahead for Obama.

If the experience of past black presidential candidates is any indication, Osama could be getting -- excuse me -- there was a little typo in that comment -- Obama could be setting out on a dangerous road.

Here's chief national correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An embrace that likely is a sign of things to come. Two-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson tells CNN, he is all but certain to endorse Barack Obama's 2008 White House bid.

REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Following my heart leads toward Barack. He's a -- he's a next-door neighbor, literally. I think he's an extension of our -- of our struggle to make this a more perfect union. I will talk with all of them, but my inclinations are really toward Barack.

KING: As, yet as Jackson shares memories of 1984 and 1988 with his friend, he also remembers the ugly side.

JACKSON: There was such antipathy toward my running. We received the most threats of any candidate ever.

KING: Jackson aides and Secret Service officials from those days recall racial slurs, hate mail, and death threats, not just against the candidate.

JACKSON: My family -- I had the most sensitivity to the fact that we had to have security at -- at our home. The threats were very real, sometimes very overt, sometimes very covert. But every place we went, the Secret Service was always on the edge. And, if you think it's not real, you can think about what happened to John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King. There's the ever-present threat.

KING: Obama aides are reluctant to discuss internal deliberations. But one top adviser tells CNN, racism and security were of course among the factors Obama and his wife considered when discussing the toll a presidential campaign would take on them and their two young daughters.

JACKSON: Oh, we have talked about the bid. He's very aware of -- of -- of the risk factor in -- in this campaign.

KING: The outpouring of encouragement for Obama now stirs memories of 1995, when retired General Colin Powell's book tour brought talk of running for president. Alma Powell worried, her husband's race would make him a target for assassination.

WILLIAM SMULLEN, CONFIDANTE OF COLIN POWELL: Clearly, Ms. Powell was concerned about his safety. However, in the end, she said: Colin, whatever you want to do, I will support you.

KING: In the end, Powell decided not to run. And longtime confidante Bill Smullen says race and safety, ultimately, were minor factors.

SMULLEN: Quite frankly, it was that -- as he called it, that fire in the belly that simply was not there.

KING: Obama plays down the role of race, though, in his book, "The Audacity of Hope," he wrote, "Whatever preconceived notions white Americans may continue to hold, the overwhelming majority of them these days are able, if given the time, to look beyond race in making their judgments of people."

The numbers tend to support that view. When Jackson first sought the presidency in 1984, there were 5,700 black elected officials in the United States. Now Senator Obama is among more than 9,500 blacks elected to office. Back in 1984, 77 percent of Americans said they could support a black for president. Now, more than nine in 10 say that.

L. DOUGLAS WILDER, MAYOR OF RICHMOND, VIRGINIA: I think absolutely that the nation is ready. He's ready. And times don't change, John. You and I know that. People change. KING: Still, Richmond, Virginia, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder cautions Obama to be wary of the polls. In 1991, Wilder made history, an African-American elected governor in the one-time capital of the Confederacy. Late polls had him comfortably ahead, but Wilder won narrowly. Many who told pollsters they would vote for a black man, in the end, didn't.

WILDER: I'm not naive enough to believe that racism is gone. On the other hand, I think the nearest thing to that, being a candidate who could cross that, is Obama now, that the burden on him to say: Look, I'm not running as an African-American. I'm not running for history's sake. I'm not running for anything other than to be the best possible person to lead this country.

KING: John King, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: We're going to go straight to tonight's "Out inn the Open" panel.

Joining me now, Roland Martin, executive editor of "The Chicago Defender" newspaper and host of "The Roland S. Martin Show" on WVON Radio, Kamal Nawash, the founder and president of the Free Muslims Coalition, and syndicated columnist Miguel Perez, who is also a journalism professor at New York's Lehman College.

Great to have all of you back with us.



ZAHN: All right, let's talk about the climate in this country now, and how a predominantly white country approaches the prospect of a potential black presidential candidate.

Should Barack Obama legitimately be concerned about his security?

MARTIN: Oh, of course. I mean, it's -- it's based upon history; it's based -- based upon precedent.

Anybody who is running for president is concerned about their security. But, certainly, when you look at the individuals who are African-American who have run for president, that has been a primary concern, whether it was Reverend Al Sharpton, whether it was Doug Wilder, when he jumped into the race for a short period of time in 1992 -- the same thing with Reverend Jesse Jackson. So, history says that.

But, again, we have not had an African-American -- a prominent African-American run for president since 1988.


NAWASH: ... say that history says that.

MARTIN: Actually...

NAWASH: I don't think...

MARTIN: Actually, I can say it.

NAWASH: I don't think there's any -- I don't think there's any basis to say that a black person should be concerned...

MARTIN: Have you...

NAWASH: ... other than...

MARTIN: Have you actually talked to any of the blacks...

NAWASH: ... other than -- other than...

MARTIN: ... who ran?

NAWASH: Well, I didn't interrupt you.


NAWASH: Other than anyone running for president.

And I think there are actually advantages for being black today in America, because, if you look at how this person is being treated like a superstar, how the media is making him into a great thing, it's certainly not justified by his experience. It's not justified by his history. It's not justified by his accomplishments.

MARTIN: Kamal, question.

NAWASH: I think -- I think it's because...


ZAHN: Hang on. Hang on one second.

NAWASH: I think, because he is black, he's actually given a license...

MARTIN: Really?

NAWASH: ... whereas, if he was white, he wouldn't get this kind of...

MARTIN: Really?


NAWASH: ... this kind of an opportunity. (CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: How many years...


ZAHN: Why is it, then, that -- that prominent black leaders, like Reverend Al Sharpton, the Reverend Jesse Jackson...

NAWASH: Because they're not mainstream.


ZAHN: ... aren't coming out with -- with -- with this chorus, "He's our guy"? I mean, like, Jesse Jackson said on your show, you know, he will make a good candidate, but he stopped short of saying he endorsed him.

NAWASH: So, you're saying why aren't they endorsing him?

Well, I think there's -- there's a certain amount of jealousy, probably? I mean, you have someone like -- like Barack Obama, who -- who struck a chord with mainstream America, because he himself was mainstream, unlike Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They weren't mainstream. These are people who held race on -- on their sleeves.

When you saw them, you know, their main issue was being black. He doesn't talk about his blackness.


NAWASH: And I think it makes it easier for whites to support him.

ZAHN: Miguel, do you think it's insulting, when we talk about blacks, that we should make the assumption that they are going to vote for the black candidate, the -- the way a white would vote for a white candidate?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No. I think Obama definitely has to worry about losing some votes because he is black. America still has a problem with that, unfortunately.

Fortunately, for him, I think the fact that he's new, he's a fresh face, that might offset, because there's a lot of people who just want a fresh, new face, change. People are dying for change.

MARTIN: Paula...


PEREZ: So, that will help him.


MARTIN: I have to say this, Paula. First of all, you spoke about what is insulting.

No, what is insulting is where you don't understand his background. You just sat here and had the audacity to talk about his lack of experience. Do you realize that President George W. Bush only had six years of elected experience when he was elected president?

Barack Obama has been a politician for 11 years. By the time the primary comes around in 2008, he would have been a politician, elected official, for double the number the years as President George W. Bush.

Now, you are conservative. How do you like that, that your president has less experience than Barack Obama?

NAWASH: You know, I want -- I want...

MARTIN: Answer the question.

NAWASH: Oh, how do I like the fact...

MARTIN: How do you like it?

NAWASH: .... that he has...

MARTIN: Barack Obama, Senator Barack Obama, has more experience...

ZAHN: But that...


MARTIN: ... than George W. Bush.

NAWASH: I think that's irrelevant.

ZAHN: That isn't the issue.


NAWASH: That's not an issue.

MARTIN: No, no, no, but you -- but -- but...


NAWASH: The issue is...


ZAHN: But the issue is, he is going to...


MARTIN: I got you. But when -- but when he questioned -- when he questions the experience.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: ... compared to candidates...

MARTIN: ... he doesn't know his facts.


ZAHN: ... like John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.

MARTIN: Right.

ZAHN: Can I move on to another issue?

MARTIN: Go right ahead.


ZAHN: His middle name.

NAWASH: I think it might be a...

ZAHN: Hussein.

NAWASH: That actually...


ZAHN: Now, there are people who say, despite the fact that you describe yourself as a Christian...

NAWASH: Mm-hmm.

ZAHN: ... you were born of a Muslim father. You studied in Indonesia at Muslim schools. And, by the way, your mother, in her second marriage, marries a Muslim.


ZAHN: Once a Muslim, always a Muslim.

NAWASH: I think that's going to be a bigger problem than him being black. I really think so.

I didn't realize, by the way, that he had that name until about three, four days ago.

MARTIN: I wonder why.

NAWASH: Now, that is a real problem. He's going to have a...

MARTIN: Paula -- what is your middle name, Paula?

NAWASH: He's -- he's going to have more of a problem...

ZAHN: Ann (ph).

MARTIN: Is this called the "Paula Ann (ph) Zahn Show"? No. It's the PAULA ZAHN show.

NAWASH: Yes, but...


MARTIN: Nobody walks around going, hey, my middle name is David.

NAWASH: But that's not the issue.

MARTIN: It's Leonard.

NAWASH: She asked...

MARTIN: That's nonsense.

NAWASH: She asked, is that going to be a problem?

MARTIN: It's nonsense.

NAWASH: And you can't say it's not.

ZAHN: You can't deny the fact...

NAWASH: You just...


ZAHN: ... that he had a Muslim...


MARTIN: You're right.

ZAHN: But -- but you would think that any...


PEREZ: Hussein -- Hussein is a problem. Being black is a bigger problem.

ZAHN: You really believe that?

PEREZ: Absolutely.


ZAHN: Some people, they say this might be an advantage.

PEREZ: Racism is still huge in this country.

ZAHN: White mother, black father...


PEREZ: Look, racism is still huge in this country. NAWASH: But there are blacks who...


PEREZ: Ethnic discrimination plays into the name Hussein, but racism is even bigger in this country.

NAWASH: OK, but why don't you recognize...


NAWASH: Why don't you recognize that there are blacks who won't vote for a white person? It goes on both sides of the aisle. If you...

MARTIN: Really?

NAWASH: Yes. If you're in a predominantly black...


MARTIN: Really?


PEREZ: Bill Clinton...


NAWASH: It goes on both sides.


MARTIN: So, did black folks stop voting the last...


MARTIN: ... years, because it's been a bunch of white guys...


NAWASH: No. If you have a black and a white guy...

MARTIN: OK. All right.

NAWASH: ... blacks are going to predominantly vote for a black guy.


ZAHN: Time out.


ZAHN: I have got to cut it off, because we have other debates we have to tackle here tonight. MARTIN: If he can bring some facts, it would be nice, too. But go right ahead.

NAWASH: Oh, like you did.

MARTIN: Oh, I did.

ZAHN: Oh, ouch.

Roland Martin, Kamal Nawash, Miguel Perez, thank you. We will see you back here in a couple minutes.

Still ahead: putting intolerance into words. We're going to look at the controversy swirling around cast members of the hit show "Grey's Anatomy" and a slur that describes homosexuals.

We have also found intolerance bubbling up at a chain of pizza shops in the Southwest. I'm going to ask their owner why he thinks so many people are so outraged because he's letting customers pay with pesos. He's even gotten some death threats.


ZAHN: The next example of intolerance we're bringing out in the open comes from some places you probably wouldn't expect, pizza shops. Yes, that's right.

Recently, a pizza chain starting letting its customers pay in Mexican pesos, instead of U.S. dollars. The response was a lot harder -- or hotter, that is, than anyone expected.


ZAHN (voice-over): With pizza, there's no intolerance, just different toppings. Pizza Patron's 59 stores in Texas and around the Southwest serve pizzas with chorizo sausage and jalapeno peppers. Not surprisingly, it's popular with the Latino community. Now, as a service to that community, the chain also accepts Mexican pesos. And that's where the intolerance comes in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With all the immigration issues and everything going on right now, to have any business to -- that took -- takes foreign currency, I don't know. It kind of, like, undermines the whole issue.

ZAHN: A company official says that, since the pizza-for-pesos campaign started, there have been hundreds of complaints, even hate mail, like, "Quit catering to illegal immigrants," "Why don't you move your pizza parlors to Mexico?" and, "Are you an American citizen, loyal to your country?"

But the pizza chain also is getting support where it counts, at the cash register.

ERNESTO ALONSO HERNANDEZ, DIRECTOR OF RESTAURANT OPERATIONS, PIZZA PATRON: They took their pesos out and they came to buy pizzas. ZAHN: The peso campaign has generated a spike in sales, with roughly one in 10 customers paying with pesos, instead of dollars.

HERNANDEZ: It has been a very interesting week. We wanted the message to reach our core customers, that we can accept their pesos.

ZAHN: The peso campaign is supposed to last until the end of February.


ZAHN: And joining me now is the founder of Pizza Patron, Antonio Swad.

Thank you so much for being with us tonight, sir. Appreciate it.


ZAHN: I know this has been a pretty unpleasant experience for you, death threats over the phone, death threats in the form of mail. And I wanted to share with our audience an example of one of the e- mails you received.

It says: "As if we don't have enough problems in this country right now with the illegal freeloaders, you corrupt crooks are only inviting more of this by your stupidity. You absolutely sicken us taxpaying citizens that want these cockroaches out of this country."

What do you say to your critics that you're encouraging people to illegally come here, and -- and that you're actually rewarding people who are here -- already here illegally?

SWAD: Well, I would say that that's completely incorrect.

What we're doing is providing a service to our customer. Our customers have -- they're predominantly Hispanic. That's why we locate Pizza Patrons in those neighborhoods. It's just a brand distinction between us and somebody else. I don't think that it has anything to do with contributing to an illegal alien problem, which there is a problem. And it needs to be talked about, I agree.

But I think we do a good job of knowing our customer and serving our customer better than our competitors.

ZAHN: So, do you take any of this criticism to heart?

SWAD: Well, I -- yes, I take everything to heart, because I'm fully responsible for a lot of what happens with my company.

But I will tell you, I read through many of those very same e- mails. And it's -- it's -- it's sad to me, more than anything else, as I have been called many things. Certainly, I have been called I'm not a patriot, or -- or I'm trying to undermine America. I think that's completely ridiculous.

The truth is that I am an American. I recognize that the opportunity that I have is more about where I live, and less about who I am. I completely understand that. But it was a business decision, and I stand by the decision.

ZAHN: Do you acknowledge, though, in -- by accepting pesos from this Hispanic community that -- that you try to serve that, in some way, you are discouraging assimilation into American culture?

SWAD: Well, what we're doing is providing an opportunity for folks that travel back to Mexico during what's typically slow work months for the -- a -- a Hispanic family, for example, to dispose of their pesos that they didn't change at the border. We're talking about $5 or $10. We're not talking about enough money to buy a -- a new car.

And I don't think assimilation is necessarily tied to that 100 peso bill you have tucked away in your sock drawer. I think assimilation is -- is a much bigger and broader subject than just that.

ZAHN: You had planned to accept the pesos at least through February. Has this criticism caused you to rethink that?

SWAD: No, not at all.

We -- when we announced the program, we made a commitment to our customers. We said that we would evaluate the program in mid- February, and see if it made sense to do it longer than that. But, as of right now, it will run until the end of February, and -- and we will see where it -- where it goes from there.

I think the whole thing is very surprising, but we completely understand it. The subject needs a -- a lot more light and a lot less heat. But, for right now, we're taking a little heat.

ZAHN: All right. And we're trying to provide -- try to provide a little more light now with our panel, as well.

Antonio Swad, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Appreciate it.

Let's bring out our "Out in the Open" panel to get into this slice of this controversy.

Joining me again, Roland Martin, Kamal Nawash, and Miguel Perez.

Welcome back.


ZAHN: All right. We're talking pizza here.

Do you see Mr. Swad's actions in any way sanctioning people here in some way who are here illegally?

NAWASH: I will take it, since I'm an immigrant.

I don't think this is a...

PEREZ: So am I.


NAWASH: I don't think this...


NAWASH: I don't think this is about the peso at all. I -- I don't...

ZAHN: What do you think it's about?

NAWASH: This is about the larger question of illegal immigration.

PEREZ: It's not.



PEREZ: It has absolutely nothing to do with illegal immigration.

NAWASH: Let me finish. This is...

PEREZ: Absolutely...


PEREZ: ... nothing to do with it.

NAWASH: From the perspective of the people who are outraged...



NAWASH: I will shut up and let you speak.

PEREZ: Thank you.

NAWASH: Go ahead.


NAWASH: And then I will pick it up later.

ZAHN: All right.

PEREZ: That would be wonderful, because you didn't give me a shot last time.


PEREZ: So, let me...

ZAHN: All right. All right.

PEREZ: Let me get around to it.

ZAHN: So, Miguel, what do you -- if...

PEREZ: Look, look, look, look, look...

ZAHN: If this is not about illegal immigration...

PEREZ: ... this is about you and I, Paula...

ZAHN: ... and the hatred of people who are here illegally...

PEREZ: Paula, you and I can go to Cancun on vacation, come back with a few pesos.

MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you.

PEREZ: ... have some -- these pesos that we can't do anything with in our drawer. And now we have an opportunity to go buy a pizza with it.

How does that tie in with illegal immigration?

NAWASH: I agree with that.

PEREZ: There's -- there's people using -- Americans using dollars all over Latin America.

NAWASH: All over the world. You're missing the point.

PEREZ: All over the world. And nobody gets offended.

NAWASH: You're missing the point.

PEREZ: Now, all of sudden, this -- this is about xenophobia. This is about a wave of xenophobia sweeping this country, people trying to tie this peso issue with illegal immigrants. It has nothing to do with illegal immigrants.

ZAHN: What is the harm of spending your pesos...

NAWASH: There is no harm.

ZAHN: ... at Pizza Patron?

NAWASH: Paula, there is no harm. I think it's a great idea. It's a great marketing thing. I would do the exact same thing.

But that is not why these people are outraged. I think this is about the larger immigration debate. You have millions of Americans out there who are upset at their government for not doing anything to control illegal immigration. And they see this. They look -- they look at people coming from Latin America. Whether you agree or not, I'm telling you what I think Americans feel.


NAWASH: They see -- they see America changing. They see a nation that is in danger. They see people who hold up signs that say, "Hey, we didn't cross the border; the border crossed over us," which insinuates that the whole Southwest of the United States belongs to Latin America.

PEREZ: Paranoid.

NAWASH: And they're scared. They see...

MARTIN: Paula...

NAWASH: They -- this is what the real issue is about. I'm not telling you -- I agree with you. But I think that's what Americans feel.

PEREZ: Good.

ZAHN: All right.

How -- how do you...


ZAHN: How do you separate all of the heat over illegal immigration from this story, where people are outraged that -- that this guy would accept pesos in the first place? They're saying: This is America. We use dollars here.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, you separate it by separating the ignorant from those who are educated.

What you're dealing with are people, frankly, who probably have never traveled across the world, who likely don't have passports, who do not understand that we live in an international economy.

And, so, what they do is, they have this American first. Now, I wonder how many of these same people are outraged at the number of banks and Western Union that reaps significant amount of money from folks who wire money from this country to those same countries. They're not offended by that.

What they're angry about, that they're taking it out on the pizza chain because they don't quite understand how the world works.

Now, you said something that was interesting. You talked about the question assimilation into American culture. What is American culture? Chicago has the second largest Polish population outside of Poland. Do you think they don't appreciate Poland? When you talk about the Irish...


ZAHN: ... we're not talking about stores openly encouraging the use of Polish currency.

MARTIN: No, Paula. But -- but -- but the point is, we also sell Polish sausage. So, we should we sell, you know, some other kind of sausage?

Here's my whole point. We -- American culture is a culture of immigrants, of ethnic groups. For us to act as if there's this American culture sort of sitting out there that has nothing to do with various ethnic groups, those are people who are delusional and who are nuts.

PEREZ: They're in denial. They're in denial of reality.

ZAHN: So, do you think this is much ado about nothing?

PEREZ: Much to-do...

ZAHN: You think it's a joke.

PEREZ: Much to-do about nothing.

I would recommend that he start taking currency from all over the world.

MARTIN: And I love it.

PEREZ: You know, it would be an even better big gimmick.

MARTIN: I love it.

PEREZ: And it has nothing to do with illegal immigration.


PEREZ: People who want to lump this together with illegal immigration, those are the xenophobes in this country.

MARTIN: Yes. Go read a book or something.

PEREZ: And they need to get over it.


PEREZ: It's already -- it's enough already.

NAWASH: They may be xenophobes, but there is -- nevertheless, there are millions of Americans who want immigration -- illegal immigration controlled -- controlled.


NAWASH: They're upset at their government for not doing it. And they're using this as just... (CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: And you keep repeating the same thing.


NAWASH: Because that's reality.


PEREZ: It has nothing to do with this issue.


PEREZ: You sound like a broken record.

MARTIN: Kamal, Kamal -- hey, Kamal...


NAWASH: No. No, but this is what it's about.


NAWASH: It's not about...


NAWASH: It's not about the pesos.

MARTIN: I will say this.


NAWASH: The pesos...


ZAHN: You get the last word. It's got to be very brief.

MARTIN: And I will say this.


MARTIN: There are millions of people who are in prison. I really don't care what they have to say about public safety. Shut up and sit in jail, OK? That's what it boils down to.

There are millions of people upset. They are ignorant. They don't understand how the world works.

NAWASH: That's fine. But that's the issue.

MARTIN: OK. They're upset.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen. MARTIN: Wow.

ZAHN: Roland Martin, Kamal Nawash, Miguel Perez, we will check back with you all in a little bit.

People's hidden intolerance can come out in their choice of words.

Coming up: A star of "Grey's Anatomy" tries to put out a firestorm by apologizing for using a slur against homosexuals.

And, then, a little bit later on: an airline passenger who says he was taken off a plane and treated like a suspected terrorist just because of the way he looks.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

The stunning use of an anti-gay slur by a star of one of the nation's most popular TV shows is out in the open tonight. The show is "Grey's Anatomy," and the star is Isaiah Washington. He actually used the word to defend himself this week during a backstage appearance at the Golden Globe Awards.

But the controversy has been simmering for months.

We have the story now from entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Millions tune in to "Grey's Anatomy" each week to see the sparks fly on the TV drama. But it's the show's backstage drama that's making headlines.


T.R. KNIGHT, ACTOR: It's -- it's -- it's pretty bad.


VARGAS: The controversy started in October, when, during an off- camera argument with co-star Patrick Dempsey, Isaiah Washington reportedly referred to cast mate T.R. Knight using an anti-gay slur.


KNIGHT: He referred to me as a faggot.


VARGAS: Knight, who plays Dr. O'Malley on the show, told Ellen DeGeneres this week that the highly publicized incident forced him out of the closet.


KNIGHT: I have never been called that to my face. And, so, I think, when that happened, it's like -- I don't know. There's -- something shifted, and it just became bigger.


VARGAS: Knight's tell-all interview comes on the heels of the show's Golden Globe win Monday night, when, during a backstage news conference, Washington stunned cast mates by grabbing a microphone and insisting he never used the epithet on the set.

ISAIAH WASHINGTON, ACTOR: No, I did not call T.R. a faggot. Never happened. Never happened.

VARGAS: But the fact that Washington used the same offensive language when defending himself has reignited the uproar, infuriating many.


KATHERINE HEIGL, ACTRESS: I'm going to be really honest right now. He needs to just not speak in public, period.


HEIGL: I'm sorry. That did not need to be said. I'm not OK with it.


VARGAS (on camera): Co-star Katherine Heigl is not alone. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is also lashing out, condemning Washington for his use of the slur, and demanding an apology.

A statement from GLAAD's president says -- quote -- "When Isaiah Washington uses this kind of anti-gay slur, it does more than create a hostile environment for his cast mates. It also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to putting our community in harm's way."

(voice-over): The show's network, ABC, is also disappointed in Washington, releasing this statement: "We take the situation very seriously. His actions are unacceptable and are being addressed."

During a recent interview in which Washington was asked about the October incident, he had this to say.

ISAIAH WASHINGTON, ACTOR: I'm not interested in what people think or are calling me. It's not based on fact.

VARGAS: What is fact is that intense words are being exchanged and castmates on a TV program about healing, to some degree, are still feeling wounded.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


ZAHN: We want you to know that we asked Isaiah Washington to join us tonight. He declined. But just a few minutes ago, he gave us this written statement:

"I apologize to T.R., my colleagues, the fans of the show and especially the lesbian and gay community for using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance. I can neither defend nor explain my behavior. I can also no longer deny to myself that there are issues I obviously need to examine within my own soul, and I have asked for help. With one word, I've hurt everyone who has struggled for the respect so many of us take for granted. I welcome the chance to meet with leaders of the gay and lesbian community to apologize in person and to talk about what I can do to heal the wounds I've opened."

Here with me now Neil Giuliano, president of GLAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.


NEIL GIULIANO, PRES., GLAD: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Do you think this was a sincere apology?

GIULIANO: It certainly reads that way. And we, in very good faith, are going to meet with Mr. Washington very soon, as early as next week.

ZAHN: What is it that you glean from his statement? He had never really tacitly acknowledged before the he used the "f word" the first time around.

GIULANO: And, in fact, had denied using it on a couple of occasions. And then now he's really coming forth, I think, in a heartfelt way and...

ZAHN: Because he makes a reference to the repeated use of the term.

GIULIANO: Right. So I think what we take from that is that he, as he expresses, has some issues that he is very willing to talk about and very willing to address with us. And we welcome that opportunity. This really is now an opportunity for everyone to be educated, not just about this kind of derogatory, hurtful language, but about anti- gay bigotry that's still alive in America.

ZAHN: Why is this one word, this "f word", so offensive to the community?

GIULIANO: Well, you have to think of it -- you know, we all remember when we were all kids. And it's still common today. This is often the last word that young kids hear before they're pushed on the ground, before they're kicked, before they're beaten, in some cases, before they're very deathly assaulted or killed. And so there's a very demeaning and derogatory reference to this term. And it's taken personally and it's very offensive.

ZAHN: What was your reaction when you heard Isaiah Washington use that word at the Golden Globe Awards?

GIULIANO: Well, I was watching some of the after-coverage and saw this and I actually couldn't believe it. I was really shocked that he would -- you know, it looked like that whole issue could have been addressed -- someone from the press asked the question. It could have been sort of pushed off. And yet he ran to the microphone and wanted to -- and used the slur again. It was very shocking. So I think there is something there that we welcome the opportunity to talk with him about.

ZAHN: In the wake of Michael Richard's slur in a comedy club against blacks, we saw a tremendous amount of media coverage. Were you surprised that this hasn't gotten more attention? And do you find this, do you think, as equally offensive to the gay community as blacks would find the use of the "n word"?

GIULIANO: Well, it's certainly -- I don't want to get into sort of, you know, a level of offensiveness. The bottom line is it's offensive, period.

ZAHN: And unacceptable.

GIULIANO: And unacceptable, period. But, yes, I am a little surprised. But we have to remember that, you know, still in this country the basic -- some very basic rights and privileges that society receives are not open to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Americans. So we still live in that kind of a society.

ZAHN: What do you want to say to Isaiah Washington when you wit down and meet with him?

GIULIANO: I want to listen. I want to kind of understand where he's coming from and then also share with him our story. What we really learn is that when we have an opportunity to tell our stories and we have an opportunity to communicate one on one, we really can break down a lot of the barriers and a lot of the walls and move towards greater understanding and greater awareness and greater acceptance.

So I think this is a start that I think will be a very good and a private moment at first. But as he says at the end of his statement, he says he looks forward to working with us to make a greater difference, perhaps. And so we will look forward to having him involved and seeing in a meaningful way how can we have him be a spokesperson and perhaps work with some young people with regard to anti-gay bigotry.

ZAHN: Well, if and when that happens, we'd love the two of you to come back and tell us about what you all learned about each other. GIULIANO: That would be great. We would welcome that opportunity.

ZAHN: Neil Giuliano, thank you. Appreciate it.

GIULIANO: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: The fear of terrorism has, of course, transformed flying all over the world. And some say it has turned airports into magnets for intolerance.

Coming up next, an airline passenger who says he was racially profiled and treated like a criminal, and pilots who say they were only putting passenger safety fist.

We're also following up on a controversial reality show that has brought intolerance right out into the open. Wait until you see what this young woman was subjected to when we come back.


ZAHN: The next story we're bring out in the open tonight deals with racial profiling in airline security. A Portuguese-American man, tossed off an American Airlines jet because of how he looked, just took his case to court and won a $400,000 discrimination case. Now, airline pilots are outraged.

Boston bureau chief Dan Lothian has more.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Boston Logan International Airport, three days after Christmas, 2003. Thirty-nine year-old passenger John Cerqueira was returning home to Florida after visiting his family. American Airlines Flight 2237 was moments away from pushing back from the gate.

JOHN CERQUEIRA, REMOVED FROM PLANE: I fell asleep. And I was awoken by an American Airlines personnel, who requested the boarding pass of myself and the two gentlemen sitting next to me. Just a few minutes later, there were approximately three state troopers that came onto the plane.

LOTHIAN: Scared and confused, Cerqueira, an American citizen born in Portugal, and two Israeli men, strangers sitting next to him, were escorted down the aisle and removed from the flight.

CERQUEIRA: We were detained for about two hours. They had taken my driver's license and their passports.

LOTHIAN: Not the kind of treatment this frequent flyer, an American Airlines Elite member, was used to.

CERQUEIRA: Well, I certainly felt like I was being treated as a terrorist. LOTHIAN: But the American Airlines pilots union says in this post-9/11 world, the captain was just doing his job, based on suspicious behavior and comments.

SCOTT SHANKLAND, ALLIED PILOTS ASSOCIATION: Any time a security concern is raised, the captain is mandated to have to address it, whether it's an activity or an object or a person.

LOTHIAN: There's only one problem. Cerqueira says the only thing he did on the plane was use the restroom, then his computer before taking a nap, as the men next to him had a loud conversation. He says he was never given a detailed explanation as to what he had done wrong. And even though all the passengers and their luggage were rescreened and the plane cleared for take-off, Cerqueira and the two other men were not allowed to reboard. Instead, they were given refunds.

Angered by what he considered to be injustice and believing he was wrongly profiled, perhaps because of his Middle Eastern look, Cerqueira, a computer consultant, decided to take American Airlines to court.

CERQUEIRA: We don't want a situation where people are showing up to board a plane and they may or may not be allowed to fly based on their looks or perceived race.

LOTHIAN: During the trial, he says me discovered that the crew had made comments about race, about three men with heavy accents. Last week, a federal jury in Boston concluded American Airlines was wrong, and awarded Cerqueira a total of $400,000.

CERQUEIRA: I'm very grateful to the jury for having sent a message to American Airlines.

LOTHIAN: American Airlines declined an on-camera interview, but in a statement tell CNN, "While we respect the jury system, we disagree with this verdict. This decision is simply not supported by the facts, nor the law. We will evaluate our legal options."

American's pilots union is concerned about the message this verdict will send.

SHANKLAND: It might intimidate air crews in the future from making prudent decisions, decisions that they are federally mandated to have to address and have to make.

LOTHIAN: Cerqueira, who has not flown on American Airlines since the incident, says he too wants air crews to be vigilant, but says security should be more than skin-deep.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


ZAHN: Back to our "Out in the Open" panel now. Roland Martin, Kamal Nawash and Miguel Perez. So Kamal, what message do you think this settlement sends to airline employees, airport security folks who were just trying to keep us safe in the sky?

NAWASH: I hope this sends the right message. I hope it sends the message that you need to look at objective factors and you can't go -- you can't have total discretion to decide, oh, this person looks funny or doesn't look funny. You just can't do that.

That's why we spend millions of dollars on sophisticated equipment to test for weapons, and so on. And these are the things that we need to look at to determine if this person is a security risk or not. If we leave it up to the captain, you know, you end up with these types of disaster. And this shows you that profiling doesn't work. These guys are not Arab, nor Muslim. You know, and it's a problem. You can't do that.

ZAHN: But Miguel, at the end of the day, it is, in fact, the flight attendants and the pilots that are the last line of defense...

PEREZ: They shouldn't be the last.

ZAHN: ... in trying to protect the security of the flying public.

PEREZ: They shouldn't be the last line. Well, you know, they shouldn't be the last line. That's what we have security people for.

ZAHN: Do their instincts not mean anything?

PEREZ: I think what is happening is because of the emphasis on security, the power has gone to the head of these airline crews, where -- to the point where they harass people, to the point where they're really arrogant, to the point where they think they have all this power to kick you off the plane for any reason.

I'm flying tomorrow morning. I hope they're not listening. But seriously, I mean, it's gone to their head. I've seen them really mistreat people recently.

ZAHN: Have you ever been mistreated?

PEREZ: Yes, I have. Yes. Same airline. Same airline.

ZAHN: And what is it you think -- what is it you think they think they are?

PEREZ: Well, the accent. You cannot discriminate against someone because he has an accent or because of the color of their skin. You have to have a lot more proof than that before you kick somebody off the plane.

MARTIN: First of all, let's go back to the facts of the case. I think one of the reasons why it was so offensive is that they were detained, they were interrogated...

ZAHN: He was found not to have been a security risk.

MARTIN: ... found not to have nothing, and then they wouldn't allow them back on. That's really the greater problem. It's not necessarily...

ZAHN: So had that not happened, if they had let him get on the plane, would you have been OK?

MARTIN: If I am on a jury, and someone says here is the rationale for why we did this, OK, I'm looking at that, understand the times that we are in -- I'm not saying I agree with racial profiling, trust me. But when I hear that, I understand that.

But when you go through all the procedures, you rescan the luggage, you check all the passengers, and you still say the three of you cannot fly, I believe that's why they got nailed. And they cannot defend it. And I wish these pilots would stop defending nonsense.

ZAHN: Final question. As you know, because you talk to these folks all the time, a lot of Americans will say in the wake of 9/11, unfortunately, this is just the price you have to pay, and mistakes will be made.

NAWASH: But the thing is, this doesn't guarantee any security. This doesn't improve our security at all. I mean, if they used a system which at the end of the day it's a profiling type system, I mean, I guess they look at this person, he's Mediterranean looking, they say, well, he may be Arab. Well, if bin Laden wanted to do something bad, if he knows that in America they'll stop people that look like me or him -- well, he'll get an extremist from Northern Europe and have him try to go, and then he'll defeat the whole profiling system. It doesn't work.

ZAHN: Is that (inaudible) that would-be terrorists believe from (inaudible)?

PEREZ: We actually agree. Give him the Nobel Peace Prize.

MARTIN: Here's the deal, I'm not chasing after every white guy with a crew cut because of Timothy McVeigh. See, why is it that we overlook 169 people being killed? I'm not after every anti-abortion person because Eric Rudolph killed some doctors and set a bomb off.

ZAHN: I know, but here we are talking about terrorists who took planes and turned them into jet-fueled...

MARTIN: No. I'm talking about a white guy in America who blew up a building and killed 169 people, and terrorists who also kill people.

The point is, you have individuals who kill folks. And am I walking around saying I need to watch him -- you're in the military, crew cut, hmmm. Are you in a militia? See, we don't want to acknowledge that. We don't want to acknowledge it.

ZAHN: All right, Roland Martin, Kamal Nawash, Miguel Perez, all interesting points of view. We are going to move on now. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great peace prize over there.

ZAHN: I know, I just don't have anything to hand him. How about a cold cup of coffee? I've got that for you.

A British version of the "Big Brother" reality show has started a huge argument over intolerance, all because of the way a contestant from India is being treated. Coming up next, see and hear what's happening now. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Some new developments to talk about tonight in a story that we first brought out in the open last night, and that is the uproar over racial intolerance on the British reality show "Celebrity Big Brother".

So far more than 30,000 outraged viewers have complained about alleged racist remarks directed at one contestant, who happens to be an Indian movie star. And now the show's sponsor has pulled out.

Paula Hancocks in London with the very latest.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shipol Eatme (ph), or whatever your name, please leave me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that -- do they do that in India, eat with the hands?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She can't even speak English properly, anyway.

PAULA HANCOCKS< CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tension is clear. And the arguments are becoming more personal.




HANCOCKS: But the question is: is this racism?

The Indian actress at the heart of Britain's most controversial "Celebrity Big Brother" ever, Shilpa Shetti, has backed down from her previous claims that she is a victim of racial abuse by other contestants.

SHILPA SHETTI, INDIAN MOVIE STAR: I take that back. I don't think that it's true. You know, people say things in a fit of anger. And I stand corrected.

HANCOCKS: But Shilpa doesn't know that outside the house in which she and her housemates are locked, those arguments are close to becoming a diplomatic incident.


HANCOCKS: Protests in India, the Indian government says it's looking into the allegations of racial abuse. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked about it in Parliament.

Tens of thousands British viewers have complained. The program's main sponsor pulled has out, but the Channel 4 Network says the show must go on.

ANDY DUNCAN, CANNEL 4: ... that we cannot with certainty say that the comments directed at Shilpa have been racially motivated, or whether they stem from broader cultural and social differences.

HANCOCKS: Today the Shilpa and the ringleader of the insults against her, Jade, continue battle it out in the house.

SHETTI: You shut up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who the (INAUDIBLE) are you to tell me to shut up?


HANCOCKS: Tomorrow, the battle between the two will be over who wins the most votes and gets to stay in the house and on the show. That is for the British television viewers to decide.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, London.


ZAHN: And we should add that Britain's "Celebrity Big Brother" is also airing on TV channels in India, as well.

Right now, though, we're going to take a quick "Biz Break".


ZAHN: Coming up, we're about to meet a teacher who may inspire you, even if you've been out of school for years. She's making a world of difference, and she's doing it halfway around the world from where she used to work. Hear her story when we come back.


ZAHN: Right now we want you all to meet a retired teacher who's been moved to find a new calling in a place that's a world away from everything she ever knew.

Ali Velshi caught up with her for tonight's "Life After Work".


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The African country of Mali, one of the poorest places in the world. Life expectancy is only 48 years. But to Judy Lorimer, Mali is a place of hope.

JUDY LORIMER, VOLUNTEER, SAVE THE CHILDREN: It just shows you that, you know, you can make a difference, even if it's just a little at a time. When they started, literacy rates were only about 20 percent. Now 69 percent of the kids in the district are in school.

VELSHI: The drumbeat of Africa began calling more than a decade ago, while Lorimer was a kindergarten teacher in a Boston suburb.

LORIMER: I knew I wanted to do some volunteer work for Save the Children. They had built classrooms in nearly all of the 205 villages in the Kolondieba District. So I offered to go in 2004 as a volunteer. And they accepted.

VELSHI: Lorimer spends much of her time raising money in the United States for the school building. And she goes to Mali twice a year to check on the progress.

LORIMER: They can build a school in under three months for under $25,000 including furniture. Oprah spent $40 million on a school for 152 kids. That would build 1,600 three-block classrooms in Mali. I think what Oprah's doing is great, but $40 million is a little excessive when you can build a school for $25,000.


ZAHN: We need clones of her. What a great thing to be doing.

That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for being with us. We will be back tomorrow night, same time, same place. We hope you'll join us then.

Until then, have a great night. Again, thanks again for dropping by.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


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