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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
Donald Sterling Saga Continues; Monica Lewinsky Breaks Silence; Can Monica Hurt Hillary's Presidential Chances?; Are Donald Sterling's Rights Being Violated?
Aired May 7, 2014 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is a CNN special report. I'm Don Lemon.
Monica Lewinsky's bombshell article in "Vanity Fair" hits newsstands tomorrow. But we got our hands on it tonight. Who is really to blame for her troubles?
And the Donald Sterling saga. You may hate what he said, but what about his right to say it? With a legal war brewing against the NBA, is the First Amendment on Donald Sterling's side? And if the NBA can't manage to force him out, could he take the entire league down with him? Legal experts and attorneys are here to debate.
Well, last night, I got bashed right here on my own show. Why? For just being honest, telling what I believe to be the truth about Monica Lewinsky, that she is partially to blame for the whole mess from which she is trying to crawl back. Bill Clinton is partially responsible as well. In fact, he told CBS this in 2004.
He said: "I did something for the worst possible reason, just because I could. I think that's just about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything."
Well, tonight Monica, Lewinsky by her own doing is back in the spotlight after 15 years with a revealing article in "Vanity Fair." America loves a comeback, and Monica has never been able to garner herself one. I believe the public has largely moved on, but she has not. She is stuck.
I am happy that she has now realized that it is time for her to own her own destiny. So, because I was reprimanded by almost every one of my guests, well, tonight, I got new ones. So, let's have at it. That was a joke, by the way.
LEMON: So, Emily Shire is a reporter for The Daily Beast and Amy Holmes is an anchor for The Hot List and TheBlaze.com. Celebrity publicist Michael Levine is here and Sally Kohn is a CNN political commentator and Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and a legal analyst as well.
So, Mel, if you think I was hard on Monica Lewinsky, I want check out the cover of "The Post." This is "The Post" says, "New York Post" says: "My Life Sucks"? MEL ROBBINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But it's at least a pretty picture, Don.
LEMON: It is. Is that what she's been dealing with though for the past 15 these years?
ROBBINS: Yes, absolutely.
I know the trolls are going to come out online and people are going to start attacking her, particularly women, which I find appalling. But I think the real terrible part of this story is just how deep her suffering was. I mean, everyone wants to say, hey, that's 16 years ago, you should have moved on by now.
LEMON: It was.
ROBBINS: Yes, of course it was.
But it's always in her face, Don. When Beyonce drops partition to the world and she's reduced to a line in a song equating her name with ejaculation, how the hell do you move on, Don?
LEMON: That was -- listen, I have empathy for her. I felt sorry for her 15 years ago. Those poor girls in Ohio have pulled themselves out of a basement -- out of a basement in one year.
ROBBINS: Yes. And guess what? They had the world rooting for them and Monica had no one.
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She needs to root for herself.
LEMON: Thank you very much. Yes, go ahead, Amy.
HOLMES: She needs to root for herself. I agree with you entirely, Don.
I have sympathy -- I had sympathy then, I have sympathy now for Monica Lewinsky being a 21-year-old girl who of course was dazzled, flattered to have the attentions of the president of the United States. I mean, 40-year-old women, they fell under his spell as well.
But at age 40, to come out in "Vanity Fair" on a red brocade couch, by the way, lounging on it in a glamour shot, and to have this first personal that is me, me, me, me, me, and that hasn't been able to be gainfully employed in 10 years because the only jobs she is looking for in P.R., this is ridiculous.
Had this been a first personal about my year in the South of Sudan where I learned the real meaning of suffering and survival, we might have a bit more respect for the 40-year-old Monica Lewinsky. (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: Thank you.
ROBBINS: Wow. There is only one way to redeem yourself on Amy's terms.
LEMON: No. No. The best way to redeem yourselves is take your own destiny -- your destiny into your own hands.
LEMON: Stand by. We will talk more, but let's hear what she has to say, OK?
So, she says -- because I have a lot of smart, accomplished women here tonight, and I want to hear what you have to say, what you think about what she had to say.
OK, she says: "I sorely wish for some sign of understanding from the feminist camp. Some good old-fashioned girl-on-girl support was much in need. None came. Given the issues at play, gender politics, sex in the workplace, you think they would have spoken up. They didn't. I understood their dilemma. Bill Clinton has been a president friendly to women's causes."
Emily, why was that? And does that continue to be the case today, do you think?
EMILY SHIRE, THE DAILY BEAST: Why do people keep shaming her? I think people are really uncomfortable.
As you said, we have moved on. We have moved on. Bill Clinton has been allowed to move on. Monica Lewinsky hasn't been allowed to move on.
LEMON: Hang on. Before you finish, I don't know if that's shaming her or she's saying it's not supporting her; it's not necessarily shaming her.
SHIRE: Women have been shaming her.
LEMON: Go ahead. Go ahead, Emily. But why do you think she hasn't gotten the support, so to speak, from the feminists, she said, from the girls, as she put it?
SHIRE: To be honest, I'm not really sure.
I think a big part of it is that it was a national embarrassment that a lot of us don't want to talk about, and so it's really easy to feed into this desire to bury Monica Lewinsky under the rug, whether you're a feminist or not.
And I think she's also right in what she said. Yes, Bill Clinton was a president who was very friendly to female-focused causes. Again, it feels very uncomfortable to go after him for something -- taking advantage and abuse of power with this woman and letting him move on and to have awards heaped upon him, but you have Monica Lewinsky, we're expecting to go to Sudan if we are ever going to forgive her.
SHIRE: She can't lead a normal life.
LEMON: But that's what Bill Clinton did. That's what the Clinton Foundation does. Bill Clinton took his -- he didn't hide.
He said, OK, yes, I did it, the quote that I read in the beginning of the show. He didn't hide. He was the president. She hid.
Sally, Sally, I'm going to let you respond, but let me give you this quote, because I want to hear as much from Monica Lewinsky as we can. She also said in "Vanity Fair": "It always seems like the woman conveniently takes the fall. Sure, the Anthony Weiners and the Eliot Spitzers do what they need to do to look humiliated on cable news. They bow out of public life for a while, but they inevitably return, having put it all behind them. The women in these imbroglios return to lives that they are not as easily repaired -- that are not as easily repaired."
Is it true 16 years later that names that she is associated with jokes? Anthony Weiner associated with penis jokes, Eliot Spitzer associated with black sock jokes. Bill Clinton get jokes about cigars at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
SALLY KOHN, CNN COMMENTATOR: Look, look, no one is immune from comedians. Nobody is saying that.
KOHN: But the reality is, is it's not like Bill Clinton didn't choose to hide. It's not like Monica was trying to hide. Right.
She tried to get gainful employment and kept being turned away because of the scandal, and I think we have to realize what this constant scandal machine does.
LEMON: I have to stop. Every time you -- every time someone says something -- she tried to get gainful employment, but she didn't get the jobs that she thought were appropriate for her.
LEMON: Hang on. Hold on. I would like to have Oprah's job, but I have to take the job that was given to me. Go on.
KOHN: It doesn't sound like she was trying to apply for wildly unimportant -- or jobs that were beyond her reach.
But here's the point. Bill Clinton wasn't even asked to hide, right? He was able to maintain his leadership as this great statesman. Fine.
KOHN: Look at David Vitter. Even, honestly, look at Spitzer and Weiner. Sure, they haven't had the political success they want to have, but they still have pretty successful and profitable careers.
And the women are tarnished. This is a pattern over and over again. And, listen, we all want to forget this, but they're not allowed to.
LEMON: Sally, you're in politics. You know Spitzer and Weiner just keep coming back.
KOHN: Because they're shameless.
KOHN: They're shameless and they benefit from male privilege. Come on. That's what is going on here.
LEMON: Yes. I will agree with you. That's part of it.
HOLMES: I agree that the criticism of Monica Lewinsky at the time was terribly unfair and vicious and sexist and also perpetrated by Hillary Clinton, let's remember, that she put out word that Monica Lewinsky was a deranged stalker.
We learned now that she considered her a narcissistic loony toon and that she was trying to undermine this young woman, only 21 years old, when she was working for the most powerful man in the world.
LEMON: ... she ever said about her, and Monica Lewinsky...
LEMON: And Monica Lewinsky said, if that's the only thing she ever said about me, then I got off easy.
And speaking of male privilege, the only male on the panel besides me is not getting much privilege right now.
(LAUGHTER) MICHAEL LEVINE, CELEBRITY PUBLICIST: Don, I don't know how I ended up with such a shy group of ladies here.
LEVINE: But, look, I'm the only person that has represented hundreds of celebrities.
And here's what I can tell you. What is true is that certain people are very good at creating their own narrative, and some people are not. And she isn't. It is true to say that she simply was not able, for whatever reason, over the last 15 years to create an alternative narrative.
Bill Clinton is one of the great narrative creators of all time. He was. She wasn't. So, in the end, people are where they are because of who they are. And if they don't create their own narrative, history will do it for them.
ROBBINS: Listen, I get it, it has a lot to do with narrative, but Bill Clinton had the money, the handlers, the people. She was 20 years old.
LEMON: Monica Lewinsky did not come from a poor family.
ROBBINS: And she was suicidal, let's not forget.
LEMON: Stand by, stand by, stand by.
Coming up, it's not the first time Monica Lewinsky has tried to shed her past and move on. She has tried commercials, interviews, a handbag line, a prestigious degree. We are going to take a look at all that and what could be next for her. That's right after the break.
LEMON: I'm back now with my very heated panel of all ladies and one gentleman.
But we got to get to this. I want to get to this first. America loves a comeback, right? But Monica Lewinsky has tried it before. Will this time be different?
Here's CNN's Jean Casarez.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This isn't the first time Monica Lewinsky has tried to reinvent herself, from "Saturday Night Live" back in 1999 to interviews.
MONICA LEWINSKY, HAD AFFAIR WITH BILL CLINTON: I was a 22-year-old foolish kid.
CASAREZ: The results were uneven at best. She now tells "Vanity Fair," "I was arguably the most humiliated person in the world."
An endorsement for the diet company Jenny Craig doesn't last long because of negative reaction. A line of handbags is a flop. And a tell-all book does little to leave the scandal behind.
Reputation expert Mike Paul says at first she makes all the wrong decisions.
MIKE PAUL, REPUTATION EXPERT: She ran towards reality television. She ran towards making sure that she had a book out to deal with the situation. She didn't say, I'm done with this. I really want to get my life back. And to prove I want to get my life back, I'm not going to touch this issue at all.
CASAREZ: To escape, she heads to grad school at the prestigious London School of Economics and largely avoids public life for 10 years.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: She reached a level of fame, notoriety that has just proven impossible to overcome. She is simply too famous, it seems, to have a normal life.
CASAREZ: After getting a master's, Lewinsky tells "Vanity Fair": "I moved between London, Los Angeles, New York and Portland, Oregon, interviewing for a variety of jobs. Yet because of what my potential employers so tactfully referred to as my history, I was never quite right for the position."
She says conservative about potential backlash from the Clintons hurt her in job interviews. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says other key figures in the scandal damaged her more.
TOOBIN: The people who made Monica Lewinsky a public figure were Ken Starr's prosecutors. The last thing Bill Clinton wanted was her to be a public figure at all.
CASAREZ: Paul agrees her troubles stem less from the president than from the incident herself.
PAUL: Bill Clinton didn't ruin her life. The situation didn't ruin her life. Public opinion didn't ruin her life. Her decision to have a relationship with a married man who happened to be the president of the United States ruined her life.
CASAREZ: Lewinsky now says it's time to burn the beret and the bury blue dress and move forward. (on camera): What advice would you give her from this point on?
PAUL: I think the biggest piece of advice I would be giving her right now is that, unless she owns her behavior 110 percent and isn't seen as blaming others, this crisis will continue.
CASAREZ: Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.
LEMON: Good words to end on.
And, panel, before I bring you all back in, can we -- when you hear the word intern, you think an 18-, 19-year-old. She was 22, between 22 and 25. People go off to war at those ages. We send kids off to war.
ROBBINS: Your brain is not fully developed. What's your point?
ROBBINS: It's not right, either.
LEMON: My mom had all three of us. She had a mortgage and was going through a divorce.
ROBBINS: Come on. Come on.
LEMON: So, she had responsibilities.
SHIRE: She was a 22-year-old against a president, though. That's a complete imbalance of power.
HOLMES: She doesn't see it that way. She sees the relationship as entirely consensual.
LEMON: As entirely consensual.
LEMON: Go ahead, Amy.
HOLMES: You can't move on from a narrative if you haven't moved on in your life.
LEMON: Right. HOLMES: And you can't say you're moving on in your life while you're still wallowing in the story and writing a many-thousand-page-word essay for "Vanity Fair," where you're wearing the same blown-out hair, lounging on a couch and talking endlessly about this moment in your life at age 22.
LEMON: Fifteen years later, right.
OK. Let's get to what she said. Let's get to what she said, OK? You saw in Jean's piece she's had a rough time rebuilding her life. And here's what she said. She said: "I turned down offers that would have earned me more than $10 million because they didn't feel like the right thing to do. Over the time, the media circus quieted down, but it never quite moved on, even as I attempted to move on."
Sally, could she have made better choices in the beginning, do you think?
KOHN: Well, come on, who the heck couldn't? Except, the difference is, is the bad choices I made when I was 22, 23, 24 don't stick with me for 15 years. Right? They don't become a national scandal.
My name doesn't become infamous with scandal. Again, look, I don't think we should have played the blame-Monica game 15 years ago. I think it's wrong to play it now, this second judging her, insulting her for her choices, giving her a hard time...
LEMON: I don't think anyone on this panel is blaming her.
ROBBINS: She's trying to get the wrong jobs and she's not being...
ROBBINS: What we're blaming her for is not moving on.
And she writes in this article, "Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I couldn't return to being president, and be built up by a big machine."
She was in her 20s without the capability.
LEMON: No one is saying blame her. People are saying take responsibility for what happened.
LEMON: Hang on. Take responsibility for what happened, what happened in your life, your decisions, and move on. Nobody is blaming her for anything.
SHIRE: She took responsibility.
ROBBINS: You don't like the timeline. You once said to me something that was so profound. You said, I try to be curious, instead of judgmental. And one of the things that's been curious to learn...
LEMON: I'm curious to learn why she hasn't moved on.
ROBBINS: Because she hasn't been able to.
ROBBINS: She doesn't have the psychological stamina that some other people do.
LEMON: At 40 years old.
KOHN: Don't you find the fact that here we are all discussing this, that she's still so incredibly newsworthy, that everyone still wants to pick apart the details of this...
LEMON: The only reason she's incredibly newsworthy is because she wrote an article for "Vanity Fair." Otherwise, no one would be talking about it.
KOHN: Wait a second, wait a second, wait a second. There are lots of pieces written for articles in "Vanity Fair" that we don't spend entire shows talking about.
She's still newsworthy. She's still salacious. She's still a hot- button issue. She -- look, she was the first -- I think she's right about this -- the first scandal character of this sort of media frenzy and particularly the media machine. They destroyed her, and they're still doing it.
HOLMES: Give me a break. I wouldn't have read this unless we were talking about this on the show. I might have read it in "Vanity Fair" when I was getting a pedicure some time deep in August.
LEMON: Yes, same, not getting a pedicure, but same here.
I just -- listen, I tell this story. I met Monica Lewinsky in the '90s at a restaurant, or whatever, spoke to her, whatever. I was with a group of friends. Nobody really cared that much. It wasn't that big a deal. It was in her head.
Once she found out what I did, she scurried away with her friends and she didn't want to talk with us. I wasn't going to run back to the station I work for and say anything about Monica Lewinsky. She cared about it more than I did. And, obviously, she had issues of trust.
LEMON: But that's why I say it's in her head more than it's in other people's heads.
And most of the people, when this happened, 16 years ago, whatever, of voting age now, they don't even remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It doesn't really matter.
OK, here's -- let's move on. Let's move on. OK. Let's go to the next quote that she talks about job interviews. "So here's the thing, Monica. You're clearly a bright young woman," that people would say, she said, "and affable, but for us and probably in any other organization that relies on grants and other government funding, it's risky. We would first need a letter of indemnification from the Clintons. After all, there is a 25 percent chance that Mrs. Clinton will be the next president."
So, Michael, does that sound plausible to you that that is something that she is up against?
LEVINE: No, it doesn't sound plausible in the least.
I think that any bright young woman should have a very bright future if she's willing to change the narrative. Now, the first -- the four rules of working with crisis are pretty simple.
You have to act quickly, you have to act with personal responsibility, you have to act with contrition, and you have to act with humility. And I think, in all areas, she gets a very low grade, D or F. She didn't act with personal responsibility. She didn't act with a great deal of contrition. She's continued to belittle and blame her destiny on outside forces. That's a losing strategy in America in the early part of the 21st century.
LEMON: Michael, she admits that at least initially she went after jobs in communications, branding, charity fields. Those are tougher jobs for her to land. Right? What else could she have pursued?
LEVINE: Well, listen, she has a degree. She has apparently a good credential.
And if she can't get a job, she has to do what many Americans do when they can't get a job, which is create a job. She had plenty of opportunity to create, in an entrepreneurial sense, any number of opportunities. But she didn't. And, now, why she didn't may be the purview of psychologists.
I don't -- I can't speak to that. But I can tell you she wasn't able to change this narrative effectively and efficiently, and there she is, 15 years later, regurgitating the same storyline that we thought we were done with many years ago.
LEMON: Emily, this is a tweet, and it's from CoolGreenPines.
And it says: "Excuse me, Don. Why hasn't Lewinsky changed her name? That would be my first declaration towards a new life, like, hello?"
Why do you think she didn't change her name, and would that be the first sign of moving on? Do you think she needs to do that?
SHIRE: I think that's the first sign of slut-shaming, that you're saying, if you want to live a normal life, go hide yourself. Get rid of your name. We're saying she didn't take personal responsibility. It's not like she accused Clinton of assault.
She's saying, no, I participated. This was completely consensual. We're saying that she needed to change her name, slink away and disappear if she ever wanted to have a prayer of leading a normal life. That is the definition of slut-shaming.
KOHN: Amen, Emily. Amen.
Coming up, it was the scandal of the century and the entire world was captivated, adultery inside the White House and a president impeached. With Hillary Clinton possibly running again, is there still a Lewinsky factor? That's next.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. Be prepared.
Monica Lewinsky, she tells "Vanity Fair" she was the most humiliated person in the world for a good many years, but the first family that was rocked by the scandal bounced back stronger than ever.
And I'm back now with my guests.
OK. So Hillary Clinton is currently the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and here's what Monica Lewinsky has to say about that in "Vanity Fair."
She said: "Recently, I found myself gun-shy yet again, fearful of becoming an issue should she decide to ramp up her campaign. But should I put my life on hold for another eight to 10 years?"
Mel, was Monica Lewinsky -- she wasn't much of a factor in the last campaign.
ROBBINS: Not at all.
LEMON: Do you think that she will be this time, now that she's back in the news?
ROBBINS: Zero, honestly.
I think maybe there will be a question or two and that's it. And the fact that she came out this early is actually a huge favor to Hillary Clinton, because I think people will be kind of done with this by then and hopefully Monica will be, too.
LEMON: Amy, do you think Republicans will pounce on this?
HOLMES: Well, Rand Paul has already raised the question whether or not Hillary -- or that Hillary ought to be asked about her husband's behavior should he get anywhere near the White House ever again.
But what I found so interesting in that quote that goes back to our previous discussion...
HOLMES: ... is her implicit acknowledgement that she put her life on hold for eight to 10 years.
LEMON: Amy, Amy, Amy, why is it if her husband ever gets near the White House again? What does that have to do with Hillary Clinton?
HOLMES: Well, if he's roaming the halls, and we know he has this predatory behavior...
HOLMES: ... will Hillary Clinton answer the question?
And as we also -- you're laughing, but, as we also know, Hillary Clinton used the power of the office and the press to smear Monica Lewinsky, which Monica talks about in this piece. So Hillary Clinton's own behavior I think is also -- should be under scrutiny in the way that she handles all of this that surrounds the Clintons endlessly.
LEMON: OK, go ahead, Sally.
KOHN: Well, look, I have said this. Maybe the best thing that could come out of this would be if Hillary had a chance to rethink and maybe apologize for the way she dealt with Monica way back when.
But let's be clear about why we're talking about this and in particular why Republicans are going to want to keep talking about this, which is the little known fact that Monica Lewinsky is how Republicans pronounced Benghazi back in the 1990s.
LEMON: You stole my question.
KOHN: This is -- this like "Back to the Future."
They can't find a scandal to stick on Hillary today, so they're getting in the DeLorean and going back to the 1990s to try and whip up...
LEMON: You stole my question that I was going to ask you.
And, secondly, I'm surprised that you're saying that about Monica Lewinsky, the way Hillary dealt with her maybe, because as far as -- maybe I don't know everything that she said, but I thought she only said that she was sort of narcissistic, whatever.
LEMON: And, as a scorned wife, I thought that was pretty, you know, aboveboard. Most wives would have a lot more to say. I'm surprised that you would say that.
KOHN: Yes. I mean, again, I'm talking about the whole Clinton machine and how their surrogates...
KOHN: ... Monica. But I think she could take some ownership of that.
But, again, I don't think that is going to be what drive the headlines. You are going to see Republicans keep trying to turn up any scandal they can, because they're so afraid of Hillary because she's like Teflon.
ROBBINS: If they grab onto this one, I can't wait to see the way that Hillary just kind of knocks it out of the park.
Let them keep this alive, because it is going to make people be like, really, this is all you got?
So, Michael, what do you think about the timing of Lewinsky agreeing to do this interview with -- really, she wrote it herself -- with "Vanity Fair"?
LEVINE: It certainly favors the Clintons, because it's -- it would be a lot worse six months from now or a year from now. So, it certainly favors them.
But, look, Americans have voted on this scandal repeatedly. And the overwhelming sentiment of Americans is, we don't care. We simply don't care.
So, if Republicans want to go on a fool's errand and bring it up again, I think they will be mistaken to do so. They -- Americans just don't care.
LEMON: First -- go ahead, Emily first, Emily first.
SHIRE: I was going to say, I don't think Republicans are going to bring it up again, because when Rand Paul brought it up, Karl Rove immediately told him to basically shut up.
This is sort of an untouchable issue for Bill Clinton. It's almost like you're not allowed to mention it in reference to him. It should -- it certainly shouldn't be a mark on Hillary except for, perhaps, the way she handled herself in portraying Monica during the scandal. But this issue doesn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Republicans, I don't think, even want to touch it. They know it will backfire (ph).
HOLMES: This is not about Republicans and the Republican campaign in 2016. What this is about is the media. And I think by Monica Lewinsky penning this article -- no one else, Republican, made her do it. She did it herself, by penning this article, that she has opened the door for the media to ask Hillary Clinton these questions. And let's face it: There's nothing the media likes better than a sex scandal.
ROBBINS: But you know what? Who cares? Everybody is missing the point of the power of this entire article, which is this is a story, whether you think that she should have been over this a year after this happened or whether or not you're generous to say, hey, I don't know her personal psychology. If it took 16 years, everybody grieves differently, everybody heals differently. It's taken her a long time. And she's confronting this humiliating past.
And I found it to be quite moving when she was talking about reading about Tyler Clementi committing suicide and basically saying, "I wish I could have talked to him. Maybe if I shared the story about my personal sex life being broadcast around the world and my own thoughts about suicide, maybe I could have made that kid realize you can survive this." And if it takes her writing this article 16 years later so she can move on, I say, "Go, girl and go help everybody else that's getting excitable (ph)."
LEMON: I think that's the good -- I think that's the good in all this. And I wrote a book. I dedicated it to Tyler Clementi, as well. So I commend her on that.
And there is a tweet that I wanted to share, and I don't have it with me. I'm not sure if you guys still have it. But it basically says that people in their own times -- it takes people a long time to grieve, and maybe this is her moment. And I certainly hope it is.
That was a sentiment at the top of the show. That was a sentiment yesterday that finally, it's time, Monica. Take your own destiny into your own hands right now.
Thank you, guys. Michael, you all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need bodyguard from each other to walk out of here.
LEMON: Mel and Sally (ph) are going to stick around.
All right. Coming up, you know the old saying, "I don't agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Well, hardly anybody has been defending Donald Sterling. Up next, a man who says he has every right to be a racist. I'm looking forward to talking about that, right after this break.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. It's easy to fight for free speech when you're protecting the underdog. It's a different battle when you're fighting for a billionaire alleged racist. But are Donald Sterling's rights being violated?
Joining me is Lewis Maltby. He's the president of the National Work Rights Institute and former director of the ACLU national task force; and Michael Hiltzik is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a columnist from "The L.A. Times." And Mel Robbins is still -- back with me.
Hello to you guys. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm going to start with you, Lewis. You wrote an opinion piece for "The Chicago Tribune" entitled "Defending Donald Sterling's Right to be a Racist." You say, quote, "No matter how socially repellent, holding unpopular opinions is not -- holding unpopular opinions is not illegal. Everybody enjoys the right to be wrong, stupid or just plain vile."
Why do you think Donald Sterling is getting a raw deal?
LEWIS MALTBY, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL WORK RIGHTS INSTITUTE: He's getting a raw deal because he's losing his job for something he said in private. We've all got opinions that our bosses don't like, and if you can fire Donald Sterling because you don't like what he said, anyone can be fired for anything they say, and it happens every day.
LEMON: Even if he has a fiduciary responsibility for the people he was -- the people he maligned?
MALTBY: Who does he have a financial responsibility to here?
LEMON: To the people in the NBA, to the players, to the NBA, the owners in the NBA, to the fans.
MALTBY: If the players don't want to play for him, they shouldn't have to. If the fans don't...
LEMON: They have contracts.
MALTBY: Well, they should be able to not follow the contract. This is more important. And if the fans don't want to come, and he goes broke, serves him right. But you shouldn't get fired because your boss doesn't like your opinions.
ROBBINS: This is a very simple -- this is not a First Amendment issue, first of all, because the First Amendment pertains to the government restricting your speech. It doesn't say the NBA shall not pass a bylaw that restricts what you can say.
He said something. It got in the public's face. There was an economic impact to the NBA. And underneath the guidelines, which I have read and I know you have, too, the other owners have the right to vote him out. Bye.
MALTBY: That's exactly the problem.
MICHAEL HILTZIK, "L.A. TIMES": The question about that, actually, is whether they do have the authority to vote him out for what he said.
The fact of the matter is that he does have a defense here, and his defense is that he did not commit a willful violation of the NBA laws. But I think that's a lot different from -- look, nobody is saying that Donald Sterling didn't have the right, as Mark Cuban said, the right to be a moron.
But the question is, what are the consequences of being in the public sphere, making these sort of statements, and coming out in public as this sort of character?
I think he is a partner in a commercial enterprise. His partners really do not want him in that commercial enterprise anymore. They have a procedure to eject him, and they're going to try it. And he has a defense against it, and he will try that.
But I don't think we're really talking about his right to free speech. The man has $2 billion. He's got the right to say and a way to say it any time he wants.
ROBBINS: And doesn't the corporation and the NBA brand have a right to their speech, too, which is to basically say, "We stand for this and we won't stand for that"?
LEMON: Everyone -- everyone has a right to react, and free speech comes with consequences. Lewis, you wanted to respond?
MALTBY: Yes, the problem is the Constitution doesn't apply to private corporations. If you come out against the war in Iraq, if you come out in favor of gay marriage, if you come out in favor of racial equality and your boss doesn't like it, you can be fired. It's not unconstitutional.
HILTZIK: But he's the boss. He's -- everybody...
MALTBY: He's being fired -- he's -- being fired by the board. HILTZIK: Everybody is talking as though -- as though Donald Sterling is the janitor or even a player. Donald Sterling is the boss. He has a completely different role from somebody who is subject to a boss's whims. He's the boss. He's the guy with the will of iron if he wants it. It's a completely different situation, as it was with Brendan Eich at Mozilla. He was the CEO.
MALTBY: Brendan Eich is a perfect example. Brendan Eich had a boss; it was the board. What he said was obnoxious, unpopular, and the board hated it, and Brendan Eich got fired because his board didn't like what he said.
LEMON: You're talking about Brendan Eich at Mozilla, who came out -- who came out against same-sex marriage?
HILTZIK: Brendan Eich was the CEO. You're the CEO of a corporation or the CEO of a large organization, then your personal views, your personal activities are very much a part of what you are hired to put forth.
HILTZIK: And that's exactly what happened.
LEMON: Let's stick to Donald Sterling here. Yes, OK, so I'm glad you said that. So, Lewis, you think his First Amendment right is being violated in this particular case?
MALTBY: The First Amendment wasn't violated because the constitution doesn't apply to corporations. But his right to free speech certainly was.
HILTZIK: I don't think his right to free speech has been affected one bit.
ROBBINS: In fact, this is an example...
HILTZIK: The man is a billionaire, he has -- nobody is keeping him from saying anything.
ROBBINS: This is an example of free speech. You're free to say whatever you want, and the public is free to react; and so are the free markets. And the free markets have spoken, and they want him out.
LEMON: All right.
MALTBY: That's about as much sense as saying you can say what you want but the government can put you in jail if they don't like it.
ROBBINS: This is not the government. This is not the government.
MALTBY: It's worse.
ROBBINS: Hardly. It's the public and it's a group of owners that have decided to operate underneath guidelines that he agreed to. And he did something that had a direct economic impact to the NBA, to the Clippers, to that entity. And they have the right to kick him out, and they should.
LEMON: Hold that thought, everyone. Hold that thought.
HILTZIK: Well, they have the right to try.
LEMON: All right. Coming up, I'm going to get my panel's reaction to whether Sterling has the right to be a racist. And I'm going to talk to Michael Jordan's biographer -- to Michael Jordan's biographer about comments he's made about race. We have a lot to talk about. That's next.
LEMON: We're talking tonight about freedom of speech and Donald Sterling's right to utter racial comments. But I also want to talk about the NBA's actions against him and the strategy it may use to force him to sell the Clippers.
Joining us now is Ronald Lazenby, the author of "Michael Jordan: The Life"; David Cornwell, he's a sports attorney and partner at Gordon and Reese." And I'm back with now Lewis Maltby and also Michael Hiltzik, Sally Kohn and Mel Robbins. So they're all back with me now.
David, you know, we just heard from Lewis and Michael, and we heard them debate whether Donald Sterling's rights were violated. What do you think? Did Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, make the right decision here?
DAVID CORNWELL, SPORTS ATTORNEY: He did make the right decision, and he's also authorized to urge the owners to terminate Donald Sterling's franchise.
There are about 10 reasons under the constitution and bylaws where the owners can take a team away from another owner, and while Michael's right, there are certain circumstances where it has to be willful, under -- I think it's Section 13-D, if you fail or refuse to fulfill a contractual obligation that has an adverse impact on the league, the team can take -- the league can take the team away from you.
And in this instance, I can think of two contracts. One is the agreement he entered into when he became an owner, and I would also imagine that Donald Sterling actually has an employment agreement with the Clippers that he's an employee of the club. And in both of those agreements and others, he would agree to be bound by the constitution and bylaws and would agree not to engage in conduct that would undermine the public's confidence in the integrity of the game and the league.
LEMON: So basically -- basically it's a morality clause?
CORNWELL: Essentially, yes. That's right.
LEMON: So Roland, I want to ask you about this. You wrote a biography on Michael Jordan. Michael put out a statement in the aftermath saying that he was disgusted by Sterling's comments. As a former player and a current owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, he said, you know, clearly, he has a unique perspective on this, doesn't he?
ROLAND LAZENBY, MICHAEL JORDAN BIOGRAPHY: Yes, he does. He's an historic figure in the sense that he's the first player to own a team.
LEMON: Yes. In your book, you include Michael Jordan's thoughts on racism, comments he made back in 1992. How do you think race played a role in his professional life?
LAZENBY: Well, I think it played a huge role. Michael, of course, was a role model in terms of race. I think that's why the popularity of the NBA grew, because of his perceived attitudes. And, you know, Michael certainly doesn't need me to defend his history of race. He's had model race relations in many facets of his life and continues to do that.
LEMON: But he was also -- he was criticized -- he's been criticized a lot for not taking stances on race. He didn't want to be controversial. This last time he did. Many people said, you know what, he sort of -- this time -- and this is just other people were criticizing him, saying he sort of held his finger up to the wind to see which way the wind was blowing, and then he decided to make a statement.
LAZENBY: Well, my book lays out that Michael, of course, is in North Carolina. North Carolina had more Klan members than the other southern states combined. We don't realize that today when we look at North Carolina, but political rights were taken violently from African-Americans at the turn of the last century. And so there was a climate all across.
Michael, as a 27-year-old player was reluctant to get involved in politics, because that was his cultural background; that was his family background. As he has matured, he has, at appropriate times, jumped in and gotten involved in political issues, and he's spoken up.
LAZENBY: But he's also a businessman, and he's aware of those issues.
LEMON: Sally, as time goes on, do you believe everyone's initial repugnance to Donald Sterling's racism will fade, and will that be to his benefit? Or do you think no way?
SALLY KOHN, CNN COMMENTATOR/CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: No, I don't think it will fade, and I think that's because it sort of serves two purposes in society.
So one, probably within the NBA and the sports community in general, which has this interest in distancing itself from racial bias when it comes to these kinds of overt things, so that it doesn't have to actually examine the deeper racial bias embedded in some of the structures of sports team ownership and operation that's really plagued athletics in America.
And I think that pertains also to society at large. We like to hold up the Donald Sterlings, the Cliven Bundys and say, "Oh, look, that's racism. I'm against that," so that we don't have to interrogate the much harder, more subtle but more dangerous implicit bias that really is throughout our society.
LEMON: Yes? You? Did you want to respond? You're sitting here with me.
ROBBINS: I'm just listening to Sally intently thinking, "My God, she's very smart. What the hell is she talking about?"
LEMON: All right.
ROBBINS: It's 10:51. I need a cocktail, and I'm getting a dissertation on, like, something I'm not...
LEMON: That's why we have her on. That's why she's a political commentator, and that's why she's one of the hosts of CROSSFIRE. So let's move on.
ROBBINS: And I think that he's got a scarlet letter on him.
ROBBINS: Just like we were talking about Monica Lewinsky earlier...
ROBBINS: That this will not fade for him.
What will be interesting, though, is people's appetite for litigation, because you know he's going to lawyer up.
LEMON: Oh, absolutely.
ROBBINS: And you know he's probably going to be a stickler, and so this is going to drag on, and we'll see.
LEMON: Michael, I think this is very interesting, that you wrote a piece for "The L.A. Times" saying that you also hope Sterling fights the NBA but for a very different reason. You want the NBA to learn a lesson from this. How so?
HILTZIK: Well, look, I think it's going to be very unhealthy if we allow the NBA as a league to parade itself as though it's a force for progressivism and equality, because over its history, it really has not been.
And in fact, if you're looking -- for an example of how that's so, just look at Donald Sterling. He's been an owner of the NBA for 33 years. He's the longest serving owner. He's the dean of the ownership cadre of the NBA, and they have condoned his speech and his actions for decades and decades and decades.
And the fact of the matter is that he was allowed to sort of sail under the radar for years, because the Clippers didn't matter in that league. And now here we are. The Clippers matter for only the third time in all the years that he's been there, but really the first time in maybe forever, and now it matters.
And for the NBA to say, "Well, you know, we're really shocked, and we don't agree with this. And we don't -- this is not us," the fact of the matter is Donald Sterling was them for many, many years.
LEMON: Lewis, what do you think the appropriate response should have been from the NBA? Just allow an unrepentant racist to keep owning the team?
MALTBY: I don't think he's really the problem at all. The problem is what Sally talked about. The problem is that we had serious racial inequality in this country and muzzling Donald Sterling doesn't do anything to address it.
ROBBINS: Yes, it does. It does a lot. It creates a public conversation where a league that's very powerful can say to the entire world, "This is what we stand for and this is what we don't."
And I'm kind of confused by what Lewis was saying. Because the NBA has not been policing its owners, I hope it's really hard for them to kick this guy out? I believe it's the opposite. I hope it's smooth sailing so that the next time that there's something that's going on, they have learned their lesson; and they move swiftly and they know that they've got the power to do it.
HILTZIK: If it's not hard for them to kick him out, they will not learn their lesson.
KOHN: I think they've learned their lesson.
CORNWELL: Why does it have -- why does...
HILTZIK: This has to be a tough battle...
ROBBINS: This is tough already, I'm sure.
HILTZIK: ... so that they do learn their lesson.
CORNWELL: Why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Why can't you deal with Donald Sterling in the context of a private company that finds his conduct to be repugnant and inconsistent with the fundamental interests of the league and kick him out, and at the same time be able to address some of the more insidious and perhaps more subtle issues of race in America? I don't know why it has to be...
HILTZIK: I think you're absolutely right about that, but the problem is that they're going to address Donald Sterling. And they're going to pretend that they're addressing it because it's a matter of equality and a matter of...
CORNWELL: No, the reason -- the reason that they're addressing it is Donald Sterling expressed racist views in a league that is 80 percent black of players. And you can't ask players to play and create profits for an owner and then turn around and have or harbor views of them that sound like a slave master.
MALTBY: The other thing, the fact of the matter is it's a commercial entity.
CORNWELL: It's a private business.
LEMON: Stand by. Stand by. Roland -- Roland, what do you make of the idea that the players have the right to refuse to play for Sterling? Should a player have to make those types of decisions?
LAZENBY: Well, I certainly think they have the right to protest this. You know, I've covered basketball for 30 years, and basketball is a community. And it's a community that prizes, even craves racial harmony.
And this is so jarring on so many levels. It affects the NBA as a business in all of its communities, and it is -- literally the league has no choice. Believe it, that the owners do not want to make this kind of difficult, harsh decision, but they have no other choice.
LEMON: OK. David, when we come back, I want to ask you this. I spoke to someone in Los Angeles; and they said, listen, this is beyond the Clippers, that Donald Sterling has the ability to take the entire league down. We'll be right back.
LEMON: All right, so David, listen, I spoke to someone in Los Angeles tonight, and they said these guys play for different teams but they're a family. You have big players coming out and saying, if the Sterling family has anything to do with this team, you'll have -- they can take down the entire league.
CORNWELL: That's right. Listen, the players joined with the commissioner. They were very, very complimentary of his act. But Roger Mason Jr., remember, a member of the executive committee of the union, said, "We expect you to take the next step quickly," and that's to get Sterling out. And let me tell you, if Sterling is owning this team starting next season, I bet we'll see players not show up to games.
LEMON: Yes, players, but not just from the Clippers we're talking about.
CORNWELL: Oh, absolutely. League-wide. League-wide.
LEMON: Yes. A multi-billion-dollar business. That will have a huge effect.
Thank you, guys. I appreciate all of you joining me tonight. And remember this: Roland's book is "Michael Jordan: The Life." "Michael Jordan: The Life."
Thanks to my panel. That's it for me. I'm Don Lemon. "AC 360" starts right now.