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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Don Imus Suspended Over Racial Remarks; Debtor Nation; Interview With Al Sharpton; President Bush Promotes Immigration Reform
Aired April 9, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Here are some of the stories we're bringing out in the open tonight.
We have got some breaking news for you. NBC News, CBS Radio have just suspended Don Imus. But the question tonight is, should he be fired?
The Reverend Al Sharpton, who wants Imus to gets the axe, will join me live in an exclusive interview.
And we kick off a special weeklong series, "Debtor Nation" -- tonight, the shady relationship between colleges and credit card companies.
Now, let's get started with tonight's breaking news. Just a short time ago, both CBS and NBC announced a two-week suspension for Don Imus, one of this country's most popular and influential radio hosts. It's all because of the words Imus used to describe the women's basketball team from Rutgers University.
Before we go any further, though, I think you should hear exactly what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "IMUS IN THE MORNING")
DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and...
BERNARD MCGUIRK, PRODUCER: Some hard-core hos.
IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Well, tonight CBS Radio announced that it will not broadcast the "Imus in the Morning" radio program for two weeks. NBC announced that the "Imus" radio show won't be simulcast either on MSNBC for the same two weeks.
But a growing number of people, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who led a demonstration this afternoon, want Imus to be flat- out fired. Can Imus hang on to his job?
Well, we asked Jim Acosta to listen to more of the original clips and to hear exactly what Imus is saying now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")
IMUS: I didn't think it was racial. I wasn't even thinking racial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don Imus went looking for redemption on, of all places, Al Sharpton's radio show. But the civil rights leader would have none of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")
IMUS: Would you be willing to come on my program to discuss your point of view?
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, are you going to announce it as your last show?
IMUS: No, I'm not. I'm...
SHARPTON: Well, no, then I'm not coming on now. We're going to deal with the accountability of the statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Instead of doing damage control, Imus misfired at times, directing a racial remark at himself to explain his controversial comments on the Rutgers women's basketball team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")
IMUS: Now they have some old cracker on the radio calling them some sort of name, and they have to deal with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Imus spent nearly the entire morning apologizing to the Rutgers team, noting the work he's done to raise money for African- American children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")
IMUS: But they need to know that I'm a good person who said a bad thing. And there's a big difference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "IMUS IN THE MORNING")
IMUS: Some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and... BERNARD MCGUIRK, PRODUCER: Some hard-core hos.
IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: But what Imus and his executive producer said about the Rutgers was not the duo's first verbal assault on African-Americans.
Witness the "Imus" show's send-up of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Years ago, Imus referred to black journalist Gwen Ifill as a -- quote -- "cleaning lady."
At a protest outside NBC's studios in Chicago, the Reverend Jesse Jackson said, Imus must admit he has a problem.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: This was not a slip of the lip. This was a point of view.
ACOSTA: Which is why the nation's black journalists association said it was time to take Imus off the air.
BRYAN MONROE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACK JOURNALISTS: I think it's important that, at some point, America draws a line and says, this far, no farther, that America knows what the standards of decency are, that you can't impugn young ladies like this and get away with it.
ACOSTA (on camera): On the Rutgers campus, Imus is accused of ruining a golden moment for the women's basketball team, which made it all the way to the NCAA championship. Their sense of pride here has turned to pain.
RICHARD MCCORMICK, PRESIDENT, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: They represented Rutgers in an exemplary fashion, of which we are extraordinarily proud, and then he says that. Why, why, why, why, why?
QUESTION: And, President McCormick, do you think Don Imus should step down?
MCCORMICK: Yes, I don't know. I don't know the answer to that.
UDOSHI EZALA, STUDENT, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: He just doesn't need to be on radio.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Rutgers student Udoshi Ezala doesn't play basketball, but she knows a foul when she sees one.
EZALA: Calling someone a nappy-headed ho is just really sad, because, you know, it's just basically saying that it's acceptable to call women prostitutes.
ACOSTA: And Rutgers being in New Jersey, late today, New Jersey's governor, Jon Corzine, released a statement on the Imus controversy, saying: "I strongly condemn his words. There is absolutely no excuse for his conduct, and he is right to apologize. Only the Rutgers women's basketball team, however, can decide whether or not to accept that apology."
And, speaking of the team, today, the players stayed away from the cameras, but they are planning to hold a press conference tomorrow morning. At that point, they will certainly be asked whether or not Don Imus should stay off the air -- Paula.
ZAHN: But, certainly, those team members have to be talking tonight, or at least their family members.
Have you gotten any reaction at all from -- on campus about the suspension?
ACOSTA: Well, obviously, students are very upset about this. They were very proud of this team, after it made it all the way to the NCAA championship, only to lose to Tennessee.
We did get a chance to talk to some of the players as they were coming out of the arena, which is behind me tonight. They had no comment -- one of the players telling us off camera: At this point, if I say anything, I'm just going to get in trouble.
The university has had really a gag order on these players, up until today, when they started coming out and talking a little bit off camera to people. But they really had nothing to say. They plan to say more. They pretty much plan to say their piece tomorrow -- Paula.
ZAHN: Well, we will be covering that live.
Jim, thank you so much for the preview tonight.
And, in just a few minutes, the Reverend Al Sharpton will be here live with us for the first time that we have heard from him since the announcement that Imus has been suspended. We will ask him if suspension is punishment enough.
Well, Don Imus has made a career out of offending people, but can he weather the storm this time around? Longtime media critic Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" has seen plenty of prominent people tripped up by their own words. He's also been the target of scathing and what many would call anti-Semitic remarks from Imus himself. Michael Harrison is the editor and publisher of "Talkers" magazine, a trade magazine that covers news talk radio shows.
Welcome to you both.
So, Howard, we heard the news that he's going to be suspended by NBC News and CBS News for two weeks. But we're going to put up on the screen a list of organizations that say he should get the axe.
Will he be fired? HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I doubt that he will be fired. Imus has been doing this for a long time, locker room humor that goes up to the edge, sometimes goes over the line, or, as in this case, obliterates the line of decency.
I agree with what he said today. It was repugnant. It was also offensive, insensitive, and just plain stupid, but I do think it has to be weighed against the fact that he has a career in which he's raised tens of millions of dollars for kids with cancer of all races. He backed Harold Ford Jr., an African-American congressman, in the Senate race.
I don't believe he's a bigot. I don't believe he's a racist. But I do think he said something very stupid, for which he has apologized, which he probably needs to continue to apologize.
ZAHN: So, you are saying suspension is enough, if you so-call obliterate the line of decency, Howard? Nothing else? Should he pay a fine? Janet Jackson had to.
KURTZ: Janet Jackson, it was a situation where the FCC had charged CBS with violating indecency laws.
He didn't violate any indecency laws. He violated the laws of common sense and not beating up on people who don't deserve to be beat up on. If Imus wants to make fun of me or politicians or people running for president, that's fine. He had no business hurling those kind of insults, as he himself now recognizes, at women's basketball players, who had done nothing other than play very hard for the national championship.
ZAHN: Michael, do you think NBC and CBS are doing enough here?
MICHAEL HARRISON, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "TALKERS": I think they're doing as little as they can get away with, and they're waiting to see how much heat will continue, and how long this will continue, hoping that the American public and the American media's notorious attention deficit will eventually make this go away before Imus has to go away.
They don't want to fire him. The first thing they do is, they slap him on the wrist. Then they suspend him. Then they fire them, if the heat continues. And they're just biding their time and hoping it goes away.
ZAHN: So, you think these guys are a bunch of wimps, then?
HARRISON: I don't know think they're a bunch of wimps. I think that there's a lot of hypocrisy going on here.
I think that everybody in this scenario is a hypocrite, from CBS, rather, to NBC, to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Imus himself for going around apologizing. That's not Imus speaking honestly. He's under tremendous pressure.
The fact is, our entire culture is awash in this kind of thing. And, every six months to eight months, for some unusual reason, somebody says something or whatever that's commonly being said by so many people in the media, in comedy, in movies, on television, on radio, and they're picked out. They're held up. They're burned at the cross. We blame them. We don't blame corporate America. We don't blame our tastes. And the cycle begins again.
KURTZ: I want to disagree with the notion this is not Imus speaking honestly.
I mean, beat up on him all you want for making these horribly insensitive remarks. But I watched him for several hours today, not just on his show, but with two hours getting grilled by Al Sharpton, who has a history of saying some racially inflammatory things as well.
And this looked like a chastened man to me. This looked like a man who got it. This looked like a man who was talking about changing the tone of his show. Now, that's not going to be enough for some critics. I understand that. But I don't think that he was putting it on just to try to make this go away.
ZAHN: Yes. Michael, why are you so convinced that he's caving in to corporate pressure, and this isn't sincere on his part?
HARRISON: Well, whether it's sincere or not, maybe the fear of losing his job or the humiliation of suddenly not getting away with it, after all these years of being somewhat of a bully, maybe it's getting to him. I'm not a psychologist. I don't know.
But I'm sure that, if Imus were not under the pressure that he's been under for the last couple of days, he wouldn't suddenly have a revelation from God and be out there apologizing.
So, at least from that standpoint, it's hypocritical. But I'm sure it was sparked, sincere or not, by corporate pressure, saying, hey, Don, you better get out there and grovel, because, if you don't, we're going to have to let you go, because, this time, the pressure is more than we're prepared to face.
ZAHN: Howard, final question for you. We're going to put up on the screen some of the things that Imus has said over the years that people have found highly offensive, including the New York Knicks, calling them chest-pumping pimps, referring to a black "New York Times" columnist, William Rhoden, as a "quota hire," referring to the Jewish management of CBS Radio as "money-grubbing bastards."
You said you have been victimized by him as well, but you and public officials have to put up with it. You were called by him a "boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jew boy."
Did you find that funny?
KURTZ: I didn't find it funny, but I wasn't terribly offended, because this was nine years ago. He was beating up on me during one of his rants.
Do I seriously think, as a result of saying that, that he's prejudiced against Jews, that he doesn't like Jewish people? No. We're talking here about a guy who does comedy for a living.
But the problem is, as in many of those quotes you just put up on the screen, his comedy too often strays into the offensive. I think he now understands that. Some people think he should be hooted off the air. There's a lot of pollution going on, on the airwaves these days.
Glenn Beck of CNN Headline News called Hillary Clinton a word that rhymes with witch. I didn't see any great uproar about that. My point is that Imus should be accountable for some of these offensive things that he says, but there is also a good side to Don Imus. And I don't think that that should be completely obliterated in all of this chest-thumping.
ZAHN: All right, Michael Harrison, Howard Kurtz, thanks so much.
Let's bring in tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, Niger Innis, a political consultant and national spokesman for CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. Laura Flanders is an Air America radio host and the author of the book "Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians." Also with us tonight, Kevin Powell. He's a writer, activist and author of seven books -- I'm not going to name them all tonight right here -- please don't make me do that, Kevin -- including his latest essay collection, "Someday, We'll All Be Free."
Lots of reaction from all three of you to what Michael and Howard Kurtz were just saying.
Did you believe Imus today? Did you believe he was contrite?
KEVIN POWELL, ACTIVIST & JOURNALIST: You know, let me say this. I am an alum of Rutgers University, first of all. hand I was very proud of the ladies' basketball team last week.
And just to hear this comment come from him on Wednesday, April 4, what happened to be the 39th anniversary of Dr. King getting killed, no, I don't think he's contrite. I think he's trying to save his job. That's what I feel this is about.
And I think that he represents a pattern in this country of a lack of civility and basic common sense in how we relate to each other. And I think he needs to be held accountable for what he said.
ZAHN: Well, held accountable -- you mean be fired?
ZAHN: A suspension isn't enough, as far as you're concerned?
POWELL: It's a vacation. A suspension is a vacation. I'm sorry.
ZAHN: A vacation, Niger? Should be gone altogether. Is this corporate America wimping out?
NIGER INNIS, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, THE CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: I think I'm in -- I'm in "The Twilight Zone."
INNIS: I must be, because here you have Don Imus, who is a comedian in the tradition of Richard Pryor, of Lenny Bruce, and all the rest.
Look, what he said was offensive to me. You know, those girls worked very hard to get where they got to. And they should be offended. And he should go and apologize to them.
But the hypocrisy -- as Michael Harrison said, the hypocrisy of these media empires that are full partners in the grossest industry, the hip-hop industry, that pumps out the most vicious stereotypes of African-Americans, the hypocrisy is just gross. And they're going to -- they're going to slap Don Imus on the hand because they're so offended?
ZAHN: So, what should they do? What do they do?
INNIS: Paula, where did he get the language ho from? Where does ho come from? He didn't say whore. He said H-O.
That comes from -- that's part of the hip-hop genre. And these hypocrites in corporate media America to be frowning upon him -- for Sharpton and Jesse, paragons of moral virtue and racial sensitivity, to be the guys who have to bless Don Imus, this is -- I'm in "The Twilight Zone."
ZAHN: Reverend Al Sharpton, we should remind our audience...
INNIS: And I know Al is coming here.
ZAHN: ... is waiting in the wings.
INNIS: Yes. I'm sure he will respond.
ZAHN: And he's going to do the first interview since this came down.
LAURA FLANDERS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think it was interesting what Michael Harrison said about the society being awash.
You know, this isn't the fault of the weather. There are people making decisions every day at MSNBC, at CBS, about who gets on the air, for how long. And you have got MSNBC, you have cable news making a habit now of hiring these shock jocks.
They had Michael Harrison -- Michael Savage, rather, for a while on MSNBC. When MSNBC had one host, who was committed to fighting bigotry, who was anti-racist, Phil Donahue, they fired him for political reasons. That raises the other question of, you can have these guys, perhaps, but where is the other side?
ZAHN: Well, let's come back to the issue of what it was that Imus said that set everybody off. You said you were offended by the word...
POWELL: Absolutely, I was.
ZAHN: ... nappy.
ZAHN: For our audience out, what is it? Whether you borrow it from the hip-hop culture, wherever the heck you get it from, what is so troubling to blacks about being called that?
POWELL: You should have a black woman on the panel tomorrow night.
POWELL: There is a -- we both know that there's a history of black women and black people dealing with issues of blackness, from skin color, to the kinkiness of our hair. So, it hits real close to home when you start talking about our hair or you start talking about our skin color.
ZAHN: All right.
But let me ask you this. If a black radio host had uttered those same words, would we be talking about it tonight? Would he be suspended? Would he be fired?
POWELL: Actually, he was fired. His name was Star. He was on Power 105 in New York City. It got to a point where we got tired. People complained about it. He's not on the air anymore. It's unacceptable.
ZAHN: So, you don't think it's a double -- there's a double standard here?
POWELL: I don't think it's acceptable to spew racist, sexist, homophobic, any kind of anti-Semitic -- it's -- we crossed the line...
INNIS: ... politically correct police.
INNIS: What kind of America are we going to have?
ZAHN: What's going on talk radio today?
ZAHN: You hear this stuff all the time.
ZAHN: Isn't this mild compared to some of the stuff you hear out there on the radio every day?
POWELL: Actually, no. Not to me, it isn't.
ZAHN: Not to you?
POWELL: Not to me, it isn't.
FLANDERS: And it's consistent on his part. He is -- this is part of his shtick.
INNIS: He's an equal-opportunity offender.
FLANDERS: Why is that acceptable? Why is that what we're putting out there every day for young, smart, strong, brilliant women, like those women from Rutgers, to hear?
POWELL: And it's not about being politically correct. It's about civility and common sense. You have a responsibility when you a microphone. You know what I mean?
INNIS: How about when you have a rap video? Do you have a responsibility, too?
ZAHN: How about if I take your microphones away from you right now?
ZAHN: I have got to get a commercial break here.
ZAHN: You get to talk more on the other side. Stay right there.
ZAHN: Plenty more to debate right here.
I would also like to know what you all think out there. Go to our Web site at CNN.com/Paula. Find our "Quick Vote" question. Do you think Don Imus should lose his radio show? We're going to let you know the results a little bit later on.
And, in just a minute -- you will only see it here -- Reverend Al Sharpton joins me with his reaction to Don Imus' suspension, after being toasted by our panel here.
What did you call him, paragon of morality?
INNIS: Paragons of virtue and racial sensitivity.
ZAHN: All right.
ZAHN: All right. We will let him respond to that.
ZAHN: And does Mr. Sharpton still want Imus to be fired?
A little bit later on, a black businessman who says he would hire more blacks, but Latinos are better workers. Is he a racist?
Also, a controversial to let illegal immigrants stay here, but can anyone afford the cost of that plan?
We will be right back.
ZAHN: We have breaking news out in the open tonight. Radio talk show host Don Imus has been suspended by CBS Radio and by MSNBC for the racist comments he made about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
The comments have set off a storm of outrage.
And leading the call to have Imus fired, you may have seen the Reverend Al Sharpton earlier today. That was before the suspension came down. This is his first appearance since.
Glad to have you with us tonight.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
ZAHN: First of all, you have been calling for him to be fired. Do those two corporations get any credit for suspending him for two weeks?
SHARPTON: I think it's a baby step in the right direction, but it's clearly not far enough.
I think to say that his statements were racist, as they have said, then that means they should not allow him to come back. We hope to meet with all of them and make that case.
Two immediate things is, we want to meet with those at CBS and NBC to clearly lay out why he should not be returned after the suspension. And we want to go to Rutgers University to really stand with these young ladies that have been so disparaged in this.
ZAHN: But isn't the only guy on TV and radio that is making racist comments. Where are you going to draw the line here, Reverend Al?
SHARPTON: Nor is he the only guy we have gone after.
There have been, as one of your panelists, Kevin Powell, said, blacks that we have objected to and supported their suspension. I think, because he's so high-profile -- we have argued this across the board. This is not about just him.
I have done, on my radio shows, whole shows condemning Flavor Flav and others that I disagreed with. So, I think that we must be clear here that we're not just talking about Imus, but that the defense of Imus is not, "I'm not the only one."
ZAHN: You have just called these baby steps that MSNBC and CBS are taking. Why won't they take the big step?
SHARPTON: Well, that is what we want to know.
ZAHN: What do you think these corporations are afraid of?
SHARPTON: Well, earlier today, people said, including him, that I -- I did wrong, and let me just find some charity way out.
No one even talked about suspension. Now they're saying, yes, it is racist. We should have suspended.
You have got to ask yourself, why didn't they take that position last Wednesday, after he said it, or the day after Thursday, when he said it was just stupid? So, I think that you're seeing here that a lot of people around this country, of all communities, have shown such outrage that they had to respond. I think that response will only increase.
ZAHN: Do you think Don Imus is a racist?
SHARPTON: I don't think that's the issue. I think...
ZAHN: But it is the issue.
SHARPTON: No, it's not.
ZAHN: You said he makes racist statements.
SHARPTON: Because, if you make the issue, is he a racist, then everybody goes into passing their racist quotient test.
It's about how you behave using federally regulated airways. The difference between...
ZAHN: But you have given examples of multiple occasions where you have accused him of making racist statements. So, why is it -- why can't you say he's a racist?
SHARPTON: Because, again, you're asking me to raise this to a bar that I don't have to reach.
If I'm talking to FCC, who has come after people, like I said to you earlier, Janet Jackson, I don't have to prove his heart. I have to prove how he's used FCC-regulated airways in a racist way. He could be the nicest guy in the world, but, if that's what he's done, that's all FCC deals with.
If we're dealing with advertisers, he has used funds that they have put in their marketing budget to promote a racist attitude. The issue is not his heart. The issue is how he's behaved, given the airways and given those advertising dollars.
ZAHN: He defended himself -- and we were all riveted by your radio show today -- as a good guy that said something really, really stupid. And he admitted being humiliated.
Let's listen to part of that exchange from earlier today on your show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")
IMUS: I think what makes a difference, in this context -- and you can still call for me to be fired. That's fine.
But I think what makes a difference, a crucial difference, is, what was my intent? Am I some rabid, racist, vicious person who's on a rampage, screaming, and got on the radio and turned on the microphone, and said, here's what I think these women are? That's not what I did. What I did is repugnant and repulsive and horrible. And you know what's horrible?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: That actually was a different part of his interview, when he was trying to say his intent is different from racists; he was just trying to be a funny guy.
But he went on to say earlier: Don't you think I'm humiliated? Don't you think I'm embarrassed?
And he admitted that he would had something wrong. And he apologized.
SHARPTON: He admitted almost a week later. The next day, he did not have that position. Two days later, he didn't have that position.
And, again, he has -- Clarence Page of "Chicago Tribune," he once committed to him, "I'm going to stop this, when he was in another controversy.
And I said to him on the same show, what are you, a serial apologist? I mean, at what point do you understand this hurts people, based on their gender and race?
ZAHN: Do you make any distinction, though, about intent? Don Imus told you in -- in many different parts of the interview: Look, I'm a guy that's supposed to be outrageous. I'm supposed to funny. I didn't mean it to hurt anybody.
SHARPTON: But he's not supposed to use the airways that are supposed to be regulated to use his -- his humor, if that's what he wants to call it, or his polemics to make racist or gender-biased statements.
And you and I are on a television station right now. I can go outside and say whatever I want. But, if you, as the host here of an FCC-regulated statement, make a racist remark, that's regulated. Either we're going to have regulations or we're not going to have them. And that's the only issue here.
ZAHN: Need a brief answer. At the end of the day, do you think this guy is going to get fired or not?
SHARPTON: At the end of the day, I think we're going to keep mobilizing to stop him and anyone else from using the airways...
ZAHN: You didn't answer the question. Do you have any faith that he will get fired?
SHARPTON: I have faith that people will mobilize, and he will be fired.
ZAHN: All right.
Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you for your time tonight.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
ZAHN: Appreciate your scurrying over here.
SHARPTON: All right.
ZAHN: We have been bugging him all day on the telephone. And we got him back shortly after this news came down.
SHARPTON: All right. Thank you.
ZAHN: We would also like to know what you all think of this tonight. Please go to our Web site at CNN.com/Paula. Find our "Quick Vote" question. Do you think Don Imus should lose his radio show? We will let you know the results a little bit later on.
A black businessman has virtually no black workers. Why can't he find any to do the job?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think it just became a -- a lack of discipline.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weren't as dedicated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. They weren't as dedicated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Out in the open tonight: one man's disturbing experience. Who works harder, blacks or Latinos?
Plus: a controversial proposal that would give illegal aliens a way to stay in the U.S., but it involves a lot of money. Can anyone afford it?
ZAHN: Welcome back.
The passionate debate or illegal immigration is out in the open tonight. President Bush was in Yuma, Arizona, earlier today, with border agents and National Guard troops behind him, making yet a new pitch for immigration reform.
The president says he wants tight border controls and penalties for businesses that hire illegal immigrants. But part of the president's plan would also make undocumented workers pay $3,500 for the right to work in the U.S. for three years. If they then want to become legal residents, they would have to pay $10,000 each. Joining me now, Juan Hernandez, author of the "New American Pioneers, Why are We Afraid of Mexican Immigrants?"
He was a member of former Mexican President Vicente Fox's Cabinet and now is a senior fellow with the Non-Partisan Reform Institute.
Welcome, good to have you with us tonight.
JUAN HERNANDEZ, NON-PARTISAN REFORM INSTITUTE: Thank you.
ZAHN: Let me tell you -- our audience more about what the president is suggesting. He says that it would make these illegal workers who are already in the country pay back taxes and get a meaningful penalty for being here illegally in the first place. What's wrong with that?
HERNANDEZ: Well, it's not - it's a terrible proposal. By the way, it's not even a bill yet, but I don't think that George W. Bush as president would sign that proposal as some in his Cabinet are suggesting. No, he has been proposing and the American people want a -- a bill that is passed that makes sure that no undocumented person has a criminal record, make sure they're willing to pay taxes, make sure they're not taking jobs, make sure they work on their English and make sure they pay a fine, but not a $10,000 fine.
We need to create a bill that is humane. That's what Bush has been presenting for a long time.
ZAHN: Is that the outrage on your part? It is simply too much money?
ZAHN: Because this isn't the first time there's been talk of imposing some sort of financial penalty on illegals.
HERNANDEZ: No, but a lot of people have been proposing a $500 penalty. I mean, Canada is going to pay, they are working on a program to bring up about 200,000 people and the employers will pay to bring the workers up. We need about 400,000 new visas every year according to every study.
Why are we going to be penalizing these people? Imagine $10,000. They'll stay home and create a little business down there. We need them up here. Let's not criminalize this.
ZAHN: But Juan, you've got to understand a lot of people listening are saying what is he talking about? These people are breaking the law. They're here illegally. You talk about being humane and paying $500. The truth is some of these folks are paying vast amounts of moment, thousands and thousands of dollars to coyotes to get into this country illegally.
HERNANDEZ: About $2,000.
ZAHN: And sometimes even more than that sometimes.
HERNANDEZ: And it's terrible. It's terrible the coyotes do this.
But we need these people. And for over 20 years, since Reagan's time, we have not been looking for these people. We've been giving them jobs. We've been letting them buy homes. Why? Because they are good people in many respects. They're already U.S. good citizens of this nation. Let's not treat them as criminals. Let's go ahead and create a program that's good for this nation and let's go ahead and legalize them.
ZAHN: The problem is that debate is going to rage on. No one seems to agree on ...
HERNANDEZ: Yes it is.
ZAHN: On how that should work out. Juan Hernandez, thanks so much.
HERNANDEZ: Thank you.
ZAHN: Also "Out in the Open" tonight, a man who says he'd gladly hire more blacks, but Latinos work harder. Is he racist? I don't know. You be the judge. He happens to be a black man.
ZAHN: The next story we're bringing "Out in the Open" raises some serious questions about racism and jobs. You're about to meet a businessman who admits he hires almost no blacks.
That alone probably isn't too surprising to many of you out there, but even more surprising is the fact that he happens to be black himself. Dan Lothian spoke with him about why all but two of his workers are Latinos.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikita Floyd ...
NIKITA FLOYD, LANDSCAPE BUSINESS OWNER: All of these stone walls I built as well.
LOTHIAN: ... started his Maryland landscaping business.
FLOYD: I'm thinking about doing all knock-out roses across here.
LOTHIAN: With a mower, a rake, and a dream to recruit and hire black workers.
(on camera): When you first started -- when Floyd first started in the late '80s, you had a lot of blacks who worked for your company, right?
FLOYD: Yes, sir.
LOTHIAN: And you no longer have a lot of blacks working for your company. What happened? FLOYD: I -- I just think it just became a -- a lack of discipline.
LOTHIAN: They weren't as dedicated?
FLOYD: No, they weren't as dedicated.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Sharp criticism of the very people he had hoped would be the backbone of his company.
FLOYD: But if my team is not cooperating with me, if my team calls in, if my team has continuous excuses or reasons why they can't come to work, no project will get done.
LOTHIAN: That's why you are replacing ...
FLOYD: Yes. Yes.
LOTHIAN: So this black business owner doesn't have a single black worker on any of his projects.
FLOYD: Sometimes, hey, I do get lonely. I mean, I don't speak Spanish.
LOTHIAN: When blacks faded off the payroll, they were replaced by Latinos. He said they are a dependable labor pool. About 40 immigrants from El Salvador now work for him during peak summer months.
FLOYD: They buy into the American dream and they just really come for a genuine purpose.
LOTHIAN: To work?
FLOYD: Yeah, to work. If one person won't show up and another person will, eventually you're going to select that person.
Tell Santos to come here a minute.
LOTHIAN: Santos Medranos has been Floyd's right-hand man for nearly a dozen years in what is now a $2.5 million a year business.
SANTOS MEDRANOS, LANDSCAPE FOREMAN: We are hard workers. We came to America, you know, to work. You know, make life more easy.
LOTHIAN: Floyd says he pays his Latino workers more than the minimum wage and offers them incentives.
Would you hire blacks if they wanted a job?
FLOYD: Of course, yes. I mean, anybody who wants to work.
LOTHIAN: Do black young people out there not want to do this work?
FLOYD: For the most part. LOTHIAN: His strong words about the work ethic of blacks he has employed is aimed, he says, as teaching discipline and motivating the next generation.
FLOYD: Everybody can't be a rapper or a basketball player. I understood why Oprah moved her school to Africa. Because of the kids just -- they just don't have the right zeal or the right attitude.
LOTHIAN: Floyd hopes that will change and that blacks now missing on the landscape will return to his pay roll, dedicated like these crews.
(on camera): To the African American community, what do you have to say?
FLOYD: It's not where you start. It's where you finish.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Dan Lothian, CNN, Temple Hills, Maryland.
ZAHN: Now we'll go back to our "Out in the Open" panel. Niger Innis, Laura Flanders, Kevin Powell. Niger, this man made it very clear that he was hiring the folks that he thought were going to work the hardest and get the job done. He's a black man himself and he didn't want to hire the blacks. Is he a racist?
INNIS: Absolutely not. I'm an employer. My father was an employer for -- is an employer and has been for many, many years. We've come across these very same problems. We have to be very honest and brutally honest if we want to help our people.
ZAHN: You're not going to hire many black people?
INNIS: We have black people in our organization, of course, it's a civil rights organization. But the truth be told, there is a -- if you're going to talk on the average, there is a drive that a variety of immigrants, not just Latino, but a variety of immigrants, that spoiled Americans, be they black, white, Latino or Asian, do not have. They come to this country and have a vision of this country that the glass is half full. Not half empty. They're not looking for every problem or every excuse. They're looking for ways to exceed and work very, very hard.
And I think that if we're going to help our people, we have to be brutally honest about it. that reality.
ZAHN: Well, I want you all to be brutally honest about that. Does this black man have an obligation to hire as many blacks as he can?
FLANDERS: Well, let's be clear. This man has one story. And we have a national story here with a national context for this kind of report. What I think we're missing, perhaps if we're going to do this distasteful thing of setting Latinos against blacks, is you have got a very hungry population, a population that are hungry for work against a population that's surrounded by hopelessness. Given the high rates of incarceration, the high rates of dropout, these are different populations. But that's all of our problems, not just that employer.
ZAHN: So you're basically saying you understand this man's viewpoint and you get why he's not hiring blacks because what? They're so disenfranchised they're lazy? Is that what you're saying?
FLANDERS: That's why we have a Department of Labor to enforce labor law. And that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying we as a society have a problem on our hands and it's not the responsibility of one employer to try to fix it.
POWELL: But I do think that we have a responsibility -- I'm an entrepreneur as well. I understand he's got to run a business and he's got to hire people who are going to work. I'm with you there.
POWELL: But at the same time as a black man who understands that in certain cities including Washington, DC, black male unemployment can go up as high as 70 percent. I think you have an obligation -- especially now that he's making $2.5 million a year, to also set up a program to train and bring in black male workers.
FLANDERS: Then you're talking programs.
POWELL: I'm talking about initiative that he can create.
INNIS: I'm not actually that far from you on that one.
POWELL: The problem is he is very different than where we come from in black America. We understand it's not just about my individual success. I've got to look out for the whole community. The problem for a lot of black people in this generation who are entrepreneurs, they only think about themselves.
ZAHN: And when they think about themselves they're not hiring other blacks, is that what you're saying?
POWELL: That's part of the problem.
ZAHN: Because why? Why? What is the judgment they're making?
FLANDERS: We've had decades now of right-wing foundations and others talking about black ineptitude for work.
POWELL: That we don't like to work, which is ridiculous.
FLANDERS: It's such a stereotype that exists in everybody.
INNIS: But what is not ridiculous. And again I don't like to beat a dead horse, you know. And I keep talking about the power of rap videos and rap culture on our culture in general.
POWELL: Who is the number one rapper in America right now? INNIS: You know this one -- One of Ice-T's videos from when we were both much younger was, "I ain't flipping hamburgers at Mickey D's. I'd rather be a drug dealer."
Promoting the glory and the dignity of being a drug dealer versus ...
POWELL: That was 1989.
INNIS: Versus the rolling up your sleeves and hard work and work experience of flipping hamburgers. I guarantee you that all -- all of those immigrants ...
POWELL: You're perpetuating the notion that black males don't ...
INNIS: ... that are working in this guy's firm have no problem flipping hamburgers at Mickey D's.
FLANDERS: But we have to talk about the experience that young black men have had doing exactly those jobs and because of racist attitudes they've been kicked out for reasons their white brothers would never have been kicked out for.
INNIS: I don't buy that. There are too many black immigrants that are doing those jobs right now. There are too many black immigrants in this country that are doing very well.
POWELL: That's not true. That's not true.
ZAHN: All right. Niger Innis, Laura Flanders, Kevin Powell. We have to end on that note of discord. Oh, come back. We'll change the subject the next time.
This week we're bringing a nation-wide financial crisis "Out in the Open." Coming up next, a look at how colleges profit from letting banks tempt students to pile up mountains and mountains of debt.
Wait until you hear this tragic story coming up. A student caught in a terrible, terrible amount of debt which ended up costing a life.
ZAHN: This week we're bringing "Out in the Open" a secret millions of us struggle with. The crushing burden of debt. Tonight, the first part of our series, "Debtor Nation," focuses on college students. You may not realize the average student owes thousands of dollars in credit card debt before graduation.
And it happens with a wink and a nod from schools that are cashing in on confidential deals with credit card companies. Here's Deborah Feyerick with more.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Janne O'Donnell got her tax refund in the mail, she knocked on her son's bedroom door, excited she could finally help him pay some of his debts. She found Sean hanging in his closet, a belt around his neck.
JANNE O'DONNELL, LOST SON TO SUICIDE OVER DEBT: I know he was depressed. But did I know he was going to kill himself? No, no. And over money? Over credit cards? No. No.
FEYERICK: Sean, a junior in college, owed $10,000 on 12 different cards.
(on camera): He had a balance of $2,000. First USA he had a balance of $1,500. Nationsbank, $820.
When Sean went away to college, did you sit him down and talk to him about money?
O'DONNELL: No. I didn't. Did I sit him down and talk to him about credit cards? No. Because I didn't think anybody in their right mind would give an 18-year-old a credit card.
FEYERICK (voice-over): How could it happen? Sean was smart, on a full scholarship. He worked a minimum-wage job for pocket money.
How then, did he get approved for credit cards and wind up owing so much so quickly?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get zero percent on your purchases for six months and then it goes to standard interest.
FEYERICK: Easy. Almost all of the major public universities across America cut lucrative deals with banks, giving them access to students on campus as seen in the documentary "In Debt We Trust."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... for a deposit they're giving out free backpacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just need your signature.
FEYERICK: How aggressive would you say the marketing is?
JERRY WOFFORD, JUNIOR, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: They're everywhere on game days and stuff. You'll see them on almost every corner offering a free t-shirt or you'll see promotions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you're in college, if something is free, you're all for it.
FEYERICK: We met these students at the University of Oklahoma.
(on camera): So would you be surprised to find out they get more than $1 million a year just to give credit card companies an exclusive deal on campus?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As many credit card companies as I see out here, that number does not surprise me.
FEYERICK: Would you be surprised to learn that they get a percentage of all of the things you charge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's surprising.
FEYERICK (voice-over): We asked the University of Oklahoma about the $1 million a year deal it signed with Bank of America. The university spokeswomen would not talk on camera about the details which are confidential. She did say the university offers students loads of lectures on how to deal with money.
(on camera): For example, when some of the universities say we're trying to educate our students before we give them a credit card, have you ever seen any of that on campus?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no.
ROBERT MANNING, ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: The profitability of the exclusive credit card contacts on college campuses today have soared over the last 10 to 15 years.
FEYERICK (voice-over): And that leaves students holding the bill. One study finds 80 percent of college students have at least two or three credit cards by the time they graduate, entering the workplace, $3,500 in debt.
MANNING: The underlying assumption of the banking industry is they know that students don't have experience. They know that their parents will come through to help them.
FEYERICK: Banking insiders say it's not so gloomy.
NESSA FEDDIS, AMERICAN BANKERS ASSOCIATION: Well, there are always exceptions, but the general picture of students and credit card debt is a positive one. Most of students with credit cards are managing them very well.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are all my zero percent cards.
FEYERICK: Seven states have proposed laws banning or restricting credit card marketing on campus. As for Sean Moyer, the college junior burdened by debt who killed himself, he tried going to a money counselor to figure out how to pay. His mom says she understands no one forced Sean to buy what he did. Even so, she is angry.
O'DONNELL: If you know that they're not paying the first credit card, you don't give 11 more. They're pushers. They're credit pushers, and, yes, I am angry that they did that to Sean and they do that to so many other college students every year.
FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
ZAHN: And if you know a student who is headed off to college, personal finance editor Gerri Willis will be along with some critical information. That's next.
ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, the dangers of credit cards in the hands of college students. They rack up so much debt while they are in school. Thirty-eight percent in one survey said they have to delay buying a home and fourteen percent said they had to put off getting married and having kids.
Here with me now to look at the very cozy relationship between colleges and credit card companies, personal finance editor, Gerri Willis. So Gerri, it's not like us parents have enough to worry about. What else can do to protect our kids from this kind of crippling debt?
GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is an important story, Paula. And people really have to talk to their college-aged kids about this issue. Explain to them how credit cards work. The fact that they're addictive and expensive.
The main thing you want to do is think about getting them a special card, a prepaid card. And it's exactly what it sounds like. The card is prepaid in advance. It is the safest option. It means that your kid can't go out and spend anymore money than what's on the card. You take it out for $500, $1,000. That's all they're spending, it works just like a debit card and it puts parents in control of the money.
ZAHN: But, Gerri, a lot of parents don't want to lay out that kind of cash in advance. Are there any other options out there for them?
WILLIS: Absolutely. You can co-sign on a regular old-fashioned credit card. Now that does mean you'll be on the hook for the debt, but you can monitor your child's spending online.
Look. You go out, you take a credit card out with your kid, you shop around for the best rate, you teach them about choosing a credit card and then you watch their spending online each and every month.
Now, here's the critical thing. You have to ask the issuer not to raise the credit limit. Because you know how this works, Paula. You get a credit card and it seems like every six months, they're raising your limit maybe $500, $1,000, $2,000.
So you've got to ask them possibly more than once not to raise that credit limit. But at the end of the day, Paula, the critical thing, really, talk to your kids about credit card debt and what it can mean to them in the long run. How it can really hurt them.
ZAHN: Well, all you have to do is hear the story we heard before the segment and that's enough to get your attention.
WILLIS: That's so sad.
ZAHN: It is very, very sad. Gerri Willis, thanks for the advice. Appreciate it.
WILLIS: You're welcome. Thanks.
ZAHN: And we'll see a lot more of Gerri this week as we continue our special series, "Debtor Nation."
Coming up next, your take on the Imus story. Should he lose his radio show and his TV show, too? Well, it's the radio show simulcast on TV.
Tonight's Quick Vote results coming up next.
ZAHN: In closing tonight, the result of tonight's quick vote. These are you folks voting out there tonight. Thirty seven percent of you think Don Imus should get fired. Sixty-three percent say no way, he should keep his job. Not a scientific poll but it represents those of you who voted.
Thanks for joining us tonight. Good night.
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