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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Interview With Bill Cosby

Aired November 11, 2004 - 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 and welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight for this special show.
In the next hour, I will introduce you to a side of Bill Cosby that many of us have never seen before. He is, of course, one of the best known and most beloved entertainers of our time. But now, with values moving to the top of the American agenda, Bill Cosby is on a new quest to restore some very sensitive cultural values.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Bill Cosby, the man who made millions laugh...

BILL COSBY, ENTERTAINER: Kermit the Frog.

ZAHN: ... is Now Bill Cosby, a man on a mission.

COSBY: You don't need to make him feel good.

ZAHN: Still making them laugh, but making them think.

COSBY: I want all this loud profanity in the street stopped. I want people to think about choices.

ZAHN: Making others just plain furious.

(on camera): You don't really care who tick off now, right?

COSBY: When I say, I don't care what white people think, I mean that.

ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, Cosby's take. A comedian's crusade turns serious.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: You might be surprised to find Bill Cosby on a political program. But think about it. Politics is about taking sides and expressing opinions on where society has been and where it's going. Well, this year, Bill Cosby raised his voice about the most important segment of any society, children.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY: Bacon and the sausage and cooking breakfast 6:00 in the morning. You grab -- you have to be careful with eggs.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN (voice-over): Bill Cosby has always been outspoken.

COSBY: How can anybody with an SAT of 800 in math on a 700 or 500 in math not know how to balance a credit card?

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Making us laugh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COSBY SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I'm engaged.

COSBY: To do what?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Think.

COSBY: Is the glass half full or half empty, and my grandmother said, well, it depends on if you're drinking or pouring.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Inevitably, teaching us something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY: This is Bill Cosby coming at with you with music and fun. And if you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done. So let's get ready, OK? Hey, hey, hey!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: But in the summer of 2004, no one seemed prepared for the lesson he was about to give.

COSBY: I couldn't care less about what white people think about me at this time.

ZAHN: In a series of speech, Cosby launched out-and-out offensive again parental irresponsibility, juvenile delinquency and personal values in the low-income African-American community.

COSBY: The more you invest in that child, the more you're not going to let some C.D. tell your child how to curse and how to say the word nigger is an accepted wonder. You're so hip with nigger, but you can't even spell it. When are they going to say, not here, not on my watch?

ZAHN: His words, surprising, perhaps even shocking, sparked a national debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were Bill Cosby's remarks racist or were they right on? MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Bill Cosby is feeling some heat today for recent comments he made.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: At the podium, he raised some eyebrows.

ZAHN: The criticism was swift and harsh, that Cosby was -- quote -- "a race traitor," publicly airing the dirty laundry of the African- American community.

COSBY: I haven't even started on dirty laundry.

ZAHN: Instead of backing down, Cosby stepped it up.

COSBY: When I was a kid...

ZAHN: Bill Cosby and I met for his first in-depth interview about the controversy several months later. His passion and conviction were stronger than ever.

(on camera): Some of your harshest critics agree with what you're saying needs to be done in these communities. What they objected to was the airing of dirty laundry in public. They were mad at you.

COSBY: Let them stay mad as long as they don't have good sense.

How long are you going to whisper about a smallpox epidemic in your apartment building when bodies are coming out under the sheets?

ZAHN: You have inspired so many different reactions with this work in the black community. Some people have gone as far as calling you a race traitor.

COSBY: A what?

ZAHN: A race traitor.

COSBY: OK.

ZAHN: Your reaction to that?

COSBY: I don't have one.

ZAHN: Does it upset you?

COSBY: No.

ZAHN: And their accusation is, in talking about the problems in the black community the way you have, you're basically, they say, saying blacks are their own worst enemy. True or false?

COSBY: Am I saying that? Not all. And I love my people. And I want my people to answer the call of our ancestors and the people who got an education and went to historically black colleges, graduated from medical school, law school, engineering school, in the face of odds. And I'm saying to these people, I don't think you know your history. Somebody has got to teach you.

ZAHN: You call these people your people. And yet, some people out there perceive you as this highly successful billionaire entertainer. What the heck does he care about us for?

COSBY: They don't bother me at all.

See, I grew up in an African-American neighborhood. And that's why I fight so hard in the way I want to for the equality, because I know that some of us are just as ignorant, just as brilliant, just as savage, just as tender, just as warm, just as cold. We can match anything that the head honcho has to offer. And what I want them to do, those people who are dropping out, is to at least be given the word by their parents, by their elders that they can become somebody, make them work, make them think. For instance...

ZAHN: You don't really care who you tick off now, right? You have been accused of absolving white racism by some of your critics.

COSBY: Well, you see, they misread that.

When I say I don't care what white people think, I mean that. I mean, I'm addressing my people, period. I'm telling you, I want all this loud profanity in the street stopped. You have got to stop and think. I want the 55 percent dropout rate stopped, period. It's epidemic. I want people to think about choices. I want you to begin to see yourself as somebody. I want you to stop doing things that are detrimental to your getting at least an education with a high school credential.

I'm talking to the people who are dropping out. I'm talking to the people who are thinking about dropping out.

ZAHN: But in confronting the victim the way you have in such a public way, it has led to charges that you are blaming the victim and that you maybe aren't fully acknowledging the economic conditions that led to the way they live or the racism perhaps that's put them in that situation?

COSBY: I am of the theory -- and I do not stand alone -- that the victim has to be told to get up and fight, that the victim has to be told, must be told, to respect oneself, and that the word somebody.

Very, very interesting, in "On the Waterfront," the line from "On the Waterfront" that sticks out, and anybody on this earth knows the line, that everybody says, I could have been a....

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ON THE WATERFRONT")

MARLON BRANDO, ACTOR: I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY: I could have been a contender. It's very, very important. I could have been somebody. And it doesn't take much, if an individual gives him or herself a chance to become somebody.

So you got -- the choices are...

ZAHN (voice-over): And that is what Bill Cosby wants his people to understand.

COSBY: There are colleges, technical schools, things that are open for you.

ZAHN: That it's their power to become somebody.

COSBY: Make somebody of yourself. Marlon Brando, I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. They haven't tried it yet. And I'm not talking about all black people. And everybody understands that.

What people are tired of, the people who agree with me, what they're tired of is listening to that sound, the sound of the people who've given up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, Bill Cosby is still listening and he's not giving up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY: I didn't take this as a job. I took this as an emotion. No, and I'm not stopping either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And next, I'll be out on the road with Bill Cosby as he takes his message to the black community.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to our special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW.

We said earlier that politics is about opinion and taking sides. It's also about making change.

Continuing my interview with Bill Cosby, we talked about how he's turning his words into action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The life of a comedian is a life on the road. And for many years, that was Bill Cosby's life.

COSBY: How are you?

ZAHN: His new mission has him traveling once again in planes and cars far away from home.

COSBY: I didn't take this as a job. I took this as an emotion. No, and I'm not stopping either. This is about little children and people not giving them better choices, talking, talking. Parenting, correctly parenting, that's what it's about. You can't you can't blame other things yet. You've got to straighten up your house, straighten up your apartment, straighten up your child.

ZAHN: And that message has put one of America's beloved entertainers in the middle of a national debate.

COSBY: Your children have to know where you came from. And they have to know about those people hanging and how, when they did hang them, on a Sunday, the theme song was "Amazing Grace."

ZAHN: And while the headlines have faded, Cosby's efforts have not.

COSBY: There are some people who have trouble recognizing a mess.

ZAHN: He's speaking directly to communities, politicians, parents, and families, calling them to action.

COSBY: Four and a half hours of homework is necessary. Got to be 4 1/2 hours, minimum.

ZAHN: And people are listening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's directly coming straight to the point, because that's how it is sometimes. That's exactly how it is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parents need to take back their kids from the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He woke a lot of people up in the community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was really trying to help our community a lot.

ZAHN (on camera): So what is your magic with these young people? Is it that these young people think you have walked in their shoes at some point in your life?

COSBY: If you speak your mind and if it is true what you're saying, then I think the integrity of what you're saying carries through.

ZAHN: But why are you touched by this so deeply?

COSBY: Because the numbers are now epidemic.

If I'm looking at incarceration and I'm looking and seeing that 65 percent of the incarcerated can't read or write, are termed illiterate, if I'm looking at per capita teenage pregnancy, and that even with our, whatever we are, 13 percent of the population, when you look at per capita, we're off the board.

ZAHN: But a lot of people are looking at the same numbers you are. And they're not compelled to go out and do what you do, particularly when you don't have to do this.

COSBY: I'm saying to the victim, it's our turn now. We have got to take it on our own. We have to go do it ourselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Motivate, encourage and empower.

ZAHN (voice-over): The key, Cosby believes, is the town hall meetings he's organizing, meetings with mayors, police commissioners, district attorneys, parents and school officials in communities like Springfield, Massachusetts; Newark, New Jersey; Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

COSBY: The word bastard no longer is something that you can throw at someone and embarrass them.

ZAHN: One of these cities, Springfield, Massachusetts, is especially close to Cosby's heart. It's 45 minutes from his home in the idyllic Berkshire Mountains, but Springfield is far from perfect.

More than 77 percent of Springfield's public school students are classified as low income. The dropout rate in the city schools has been called alarming. Nearly two-thirds of the babies born in the city are born out of wedlock.

(on camera): You see what's happening in Springfield as a symbol of a national epidemic.

COSBY: Yes, whether it's Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Newark, New Jersey; Springfield, Illinois; Springfield, Massachusetts; California, San Francisco, Richmond, it's there, and parenting is not there. Teachers complain, I can't get parents to come in for the parent/teacher meeting.

ZAHN: What difference have you seen since you've gotten involved with this issue?

COSBY: People are exchanging and talking. They're taking into account seriously the fact that you can't control this -- the evils of this situation until you move in and get something done. And that is to go in and you work with the parents.

That is for the police department to sit down and show the community that they mean business. But that comes from the community telling the police department, telling the district attorney, telling the mayor.

When we go into the neighborhood to transform it...

ZAHN (voice-over): Cosby has successfully brought Springfield leaders together to talk.

COSBY: So we'll all make a pledge.

ZAHN: He's also worked directly with the parents and children here, honoring many of them, even awarding three high school seniors college scholarships.

(on camera): What kind of a difference do you think your efforts might ultimately make here?

COSBY: The one thing that I really hope my presence will do is making them come back and making them execute. Maya Angelou said, you know, Bill, you're a very nice man, but you have a big mouth. So I just want to be the big mouth and make them work.

ZAHN (voice-over): Meet Kevin McCaskill. He's the principal of the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts. He's worked with kids in troubled communities for 19 years. He's on the front lines of Cosby's movement.

KEVIN MCCASKILL, PRINCIPAL, ROGER L. PUTNAM VOCATIONAL TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL: He's pissed a lot of people off. People, a lot of times, we don't want to hear the truth.

More times than not, when the truth hits you, you tend to have a but, yes, but. And he's simply said, this is what is occurring. What are we going to do about it without the excuses? And I think it's time for us to step up to the plate without the excuses and say, yes, something was made to come to light. What do we do now to fix it, as opposed to finding every reason to shoot holes in it?

ZAHN: McCaskill believes that Bill Cosby has opened a door for his embattled community to walk through.

MCCASKILL: It's not about Kevin McCaskill, nor do I think it's about Bill Cosby. I think it's, what do we have to offer to make people the best they possibly can be?

And you have not just us. You have so many people throughout not only Springfield, but throughout this country with the same mind-set. They want to do for other people to uplift them to another and higher plane. And as long as we continue to do that work and we work collaboratively with a lot of folks, you'll see change. You will see change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Bill Cosby has planned several more town hall meetings. This month, he'll go to Atlanta and Baltimore. He continues to help college students in need by building scholarship funds at his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts. He's also helped to create an endowment fund for student teachers at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

So, what is in Bill Cosby's past that drives him on his quest? That's where we're headed next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Connect the dots for me now. Is there a connection between that part of your life and what you're doing now?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The person Bill Cosby might have been when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Bill Cosby, the comedian, on a campaign to spread a message that he feels desperately needs to be heard. But what's the driving force behind this incredibly successful man who could spend his time and wealth elsewhere?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: What is it inside of you that's compelling you to reach out in this way?

COSBY: Things should be better by now. And, for some people, things are not. I, at age 60 whatever just became more and more filled with, things are not getting any better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And I'll show you the Bill Cosby few people have ever seen after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): A man of humor on a serious mission, delivering punchlines, but pull no punches.

COSBY: This is not the time in this United States of America where you're going to laugh at what my people are suffering with.

ZAHN: Where he came from, how he got there, and what keeps him going.

(on camera): What is it inside of you that's compelling you to reach out in this way?

(voice-over): The side of Bill Cosby you've never seen before. Cosby's take continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Tonight, we've heard Bill Cosby talk about the controversy he has created, the movement he's begun to promote better parenting in the African-American community. It is all the result of a long personal journey that somewhere along the way grew into a crusade.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Why, at this time of your life, when you can basically be retired and sleeping all day long, that you're tackling this issue?

(LAUGHTER)

COSBY: What does sleeping all day long -- that's death. ZAHN (voice-over): He's known as much for his humor as his intelligence. He is America's ultimate father and one of the nation's most accomplished and most respected entertainers.

COSBY: You're going to be better than you want to be.

ZAHN: So, when Bill Cosby, the African-American, started preaching the need for personal responsibility and strong parenting by African-Americans, people might have been shocked by his strong words, but not surprised by his conviction.

COSBY: And every man has beaten her up and the children couldn't stop it. And then they wind up writing lyrics about (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

ZAHN: The nation and the African-American community responded.

SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: Bravo, Mr. Cosby. Bravo. Yes.

RUSSELL SIMMONS, HIP-HOP SUMMIT ACTION NETWORK: We need to address that, not attack those who are in struggle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone who is just exorbitantly wealthy making these comments about people who are poor, it seems very classless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't keep blaming somebody else all the time.

ZAHN: A movement began. It all seemed to follow Cosby's commitment to education. A thread that runs through his life as a comedian, an entertainer, and a PH.D. scholar.

COSBY: Not many jobs are available for single women who just want to have babies.

ZAHN: But a disclaimer. This is the part of our story that a perhaps modest Bill Cosby thinks will draw attention away from his goals in movement but I believe it's the part that has to be told, about the man who inspired the movement, in this case the message and the messenger are intertwined.

(on camera): What is it inside of you that's compelling you to reach out in this way?

COSBY: Things should be better by now. I, at age 60, whatever, just became more and more filled with things are not getting any better.

ZAHN: Cosby knows just how tough life can be for kids. He grew up in the ghettos of north Philadelphia.

A teacher at your old school once called you the leader of the wild bunch, the funny guy, the con man, the schemer with the high IQ and the ready smile. Is that what kept you out of trouble? COSBY: No. What kept me out of trouble is going right to the edge and then thinking that my mother would be embarrassed and that I didn't want to embarrass her. And that my father would be embarrassed. And I just didn't want to do that to my family. So I backed off.

ZAHN: Backing off is what he wants today's kids to do. So he tells stories about being on the edge and making the right decision.

COSBY: ...and somebody said they saw me stab a boy in the head.

ZAHN: Hoping an audience of parents, children and communities will be inspired to help kids make the right choices.

COSBY: If you walk with people like this, even if you do nothing, you have a strong, strong chance of being blamed for something you didn't do.

ZAHN: These stories are not new. They're the cornerstone of his more than 40 years in entertainment. His stand-up act.

COSBY: I've always heard about people having a conniption, but I've never seen one.

ZAHN: Little Bill.

Fat Albert.

COSBY: So long, mom. If you want me today, I'll be in school all day. Hey, hey, hey.

ZAHN: And "The Cosby Show" to name a few.

Connect the dots for me now. About the thread that has been woven through your life with this issue. Is there a connection between that part of your life and what you're doing now?

COSBY: If you look at my, as they call body of work, you look at this new comedian who goes on "The Tonight Show." On those days everybody wore a suit and tie. Well, all of the comedians, African- American ones went on and the first thing they talked about was the color of their skin. And people were laughing at the color of their skin. So on and so forth and back in the bus, ha, ha, ha. OK. I don't play that. You're not going to laugh at the color of my skin. You are going to laugh with me at our similarities and some of our differences. But I'm not going to have you -- because this is not the time in this United States of America where you're going to laugh at what my people are suffering with.

COSBY: When it came time for the Huxtables, it was off of my routines. By that time I was doing routines about raising a family, looking at the children, looking at my wife, looking at myself. And I was watching television and I noticed that a number of television series situation comedies had these little children who were brighter than the parents. And I've always sort of felt working with comedy sitcom writers that all of them seemed to have had a terrible time with their parents, and meant to pay them back by writing a series. Because they always put the kid in the position to tell the parent that they're stupid.

ZAHN: Did your own kids do that?

COSBY: Not in our house.

ZAHN: ...challenge you.

COSBY: Our children -- they don't challenge like that. They were never brought up to feel that comfortable. That they could call it -- the parents stupid. First of all, they're not working. They're homeless. Homeless people -- you know, you just cannot -- you can't do that.

ZAHN: When you look back on your career, do you see that thread, or at least that impulse that wanted you to create roles that raised the bar?

COSBY: Not only raise the bar but gave people choices. I always had -- "Fat Albert." An excellent example, "Fat Albert."

Fat Albert and the gang are thinking about how it's going to be taking a day off from school. It's a groovy thought but somehow things don't always work out the way we hope.

"Fat Albert" was designed with a misfit looking group of fellows that people would look at going someplace and do like that. But to give them things to do, so that they worked to help other people, they became somebody.

ZAHN: So this crusade that you're on today goes back to your early roots in comedy?

COSBY: And the things I've been saying go all the way back. There are people who've heard me speak as far back as seven years will tell you that I have said these things.

ZAHN: I know you have another at least 40 years ahead of you.

COSBY: Not to do this show.

ZAHN: But what do you want your legacy to be?

COSBY: I don't even play that game. My wife will take care of everything. My wife will take...

ZAHN: Have you given her instructions?

COSBY: No, you can put that on my tombstone. My wife will take care of everything.

ZAHN: You haven't given her any instructions?

COSBY: Look, a legacy, you leave it up to people to judge you and that is probably the worst thing you ever want to do. Leave anything up to anybody to judge you, you know? It's just, I don't care. But my wife will take care of everything.

ZAHN: No, but clearly you have done things throughout your life, that you think will impact children, you think it'll impact family, that obviously based on our conversation today has been a driving force in your work. You don't want that to be heralded in some way?

COSBY: No, no, I don't care. I don't care. I'm doing what I want to do, and that's why I'm not sleeping.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: As we've seen a lot of people disagree with Bill Cosby's beliefs about how the black community has to change. His critics have been very vocal about how they see his message and his mission. So I've invited three prominent African-Americans to debate the issue, the clash over black culture. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We just heard Bill Cosby talk passionately about what he believes is an epidemic in the African-American community: parental irresponsibility. Is he right? And if so, what should be done about it?

Joining me now from Chicago, former ambassador and U.S. senator and presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun.

From Philadelphia tonight, Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who has been very critical of Bill Cosby's comments. His latest book is the "Michael Eric Dyson Reader."

And with me here with tonight in the studio, the Reverend Joe Watkins, who was a Bush campaign adviser and is the director of Hill Solutions.

Glad to have all of you with us tonight. Professor, I'm going to start with you this evening. Do you view Bill Cosby as a race traitor?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, absolutely not. And I further disagree with the fact that people suggest that he isn't capable as a social critic and comedian to quote, "air dirty laundry." I think that's ridiculous. I wrote a very controversial book, for instance, on Martin Luther King Jr. And many people took me to the task with the same reason within our communities. So I always disagree with that kind of diatribe.

What I find problematic about what Mr. Cosby has done, undeniably a beautiful human being who has given his life to bettering his fellow human beings. The reality is that Mr. Cosby is, I think, wretchedly ill-informed about some of the root causes of the very problems to which he has called attention.

ZAHN: Like what? DYSON: To not only blame the -- well, for instance, poor parenting. If you were working two and three jobs and you're a single mother, if you take off to go to the PTA for your children or attend to them while they're sick, you can often be fired. This is why we have 44 million people without health care in this country.

And so I'm suggesting it's not either/or. It's not either you deal with the socio-economic, political and moral issues on the one hand, and on the other hand, issues of personal responsibility. I know no one who is a serious leader in African-American culture or a thinker who has not emphasized both.

REV. JOE WATKINS, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Absolutely.

DYSON: You must be personally responsible for the choices at your disposal, as well as dealing with economic inequality and social injustice.

Let me end by saying this. We have waited for 40 years for Dr. Cosby to come forth to speak about the systematic forces of oppression that undermine, subvert and distort the chances of people to become all that they can be.

WATKINS: Well, he's here, Michael. The good thing is that he's here.

DYSON: My point is -- my point is...

WATKINS: He's doing it.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: Let me finish my point. Let me finish my point.

WATKINS: Go ahead, Michael, finish your point.

DYSON: Bill Cosby has never -- Bill Cosby has never in the same way that he has now assaulted poor black people, assaulted white supremacists for doing the things that they have done.

And if we had a balance of that...

WATKINS: The beauty is that he's speaking to black people. It takes a black man like Bill Cosby from the inner city, as Bill Cosby is from, who has succeeded in this society, who has -- is using his fame in this fruitful way to enlighten people who are hurting and to help them get up on their feet and to fight back.

What he's doing is a wonderful thing. He's calling people to personal responsibility. He's calling parents, beautifully, parents to be parents. The most important job that we all have if we're parents is to be a good parent. It's to take care of our kids and to be responsible for our kids.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: All right. Ambassador, let me ask you this, do you think that Bill Cosby is ignoring the root causes of why these families are where they are? I've spent three or four hours with him that day during the interview and he seemed to be painfully aware of the economic circumstances of these families he's talking about.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NEW ZEALAND: First off, Paula, I want to thank you for doing this show. It's an important conversation. And I think it's important that Bill Cosby has weighed in with all of his stature and respect around the country, the world even, in this debate.

It's actually not a new debate. It's a very old one, and in fact it mirrors the debate that took place almost 100 years ago, over 100 years ago between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington.

In that debate, W.E.B. Dubois said focus in on the talented tenth, help to make those who can be the leaders, help develop leaders and focus in on that. And Booker T. made the point that if you focus in on everybody else, you would build a stronger community. I think they were both right.

And so what Cosby, I think, is trying to say is he's appealing to black leadership, not only to focus in on the talented tenth, not only to focus in on the young people who are starting businesses and going to college, but focus in on everybody else, as well, and say, you know, you build a community from within. You build social values and structure.

WATKINS: Ambassador, if I might butt in, Ambassador. What I also like is that he's not just speaking to the leaders; he's speaking to parents. He's speaking to people in inner cities, and he's saying to people in inner cities, you know what, you can make it.

Take responsibility for yourself. Take responsibility for being a better parent to your kids.

BRAUN: Well, and Reverend Watkins, let me say one other thing.

WATKINS: In what they're doing at school. Find the time to help them with their homework. These are all good things.

BRAUN: They're very good things, and -- but it's not new.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: That's if you have -- that's assuming that you have the latitude to do that, Reverend.

WATKINS: Well, you find latitude to do that.

ZAHN: A lot of these parents don't.

WATKINS: You find latitude to do it.

DYSON: Let me tell you -- let me tell you, let me jump in here, Joe.

See, here's the point. We're not denying that Bill Cosby has a point about personal responsibility, but here's the -- here's the reality. You don't have to be poor to have a child out of wedlock. Mr. Cosby understands that. Many people who have fallen and have made mistake, and we're all fragile.

No. 2, the family structures of people who are even rich, have -- they have difficulties with their children. So it's not simply a matter of if you've gotten money and therefore time to pay attention to your kids, things will turn out rosy, and if you don't, the kids will be terrible.

Here's the point: poor people are more vulnerable to being incapable of dealing with their children in successful ways.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: Reverend, let me finish. Not that they don't have moral insight, not that they don't have the courage to step forth and be personally responsible. They don't have the resources to support their impulse to be moral.

And my point is, a call for personal responsibility outside of the context of the social...

WATKINS: People who have the resources...

DYSON: Yes, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: I take difference with that, Michael. I pastor a church in the inner city in North Philadelphia, not far from where Bill Cosby's from. There are a lot of people at my church who don't have lots of financial resources, and yet, still they do take personal responsibility for themselves and their family.

DYSON: Absolutely.

WATKINS: And so I don't know that I agree with that.

DYSON: Hold on.

BRAUN: Paula?

DYSON: I would assume Bill Cosby is not talking about those people. I would assume we're talking about the people...

BRAUN: Paula?

DYSON: ... that have been incapable of succeeding. And when Bill Cosby jumps on Shaniqua (ph) and Taniqua (ph) naming...

WATKINS: Nobody...

BRAUN: Paula?

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: Wait a minute.

ZAHN: Let's make some room here for the ambassador. Ms. Ambassador, carry on.

BRAUN: Yelling about this is not the answer. It's -- it has to be a dialogue and a conversation, and one that brings people in.

And I think that the more we can have a conversation about how to help people who are struggling with issues of insufficient resources, but want to do the right thing by their children.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAUN: People want to do the right thing, but many -- but many times they need help to do it. And they need some guidance and they need some support. And they need some resources outside of themselves to help -- help them do what they know is the right thing.

And I think that what Bill Cosby is doing is calling people to say, look, get up off of your knees. Stop feeling sorry...

WATKINS: That's right.

BRAUN: ... for yourself and do what you have to do to make certain that your children know that they can succeed. So that your children have the equipment they need to go out there in that big bad world and do what they have to do. And...

DYSON: I'd like to respond to that.

ZAHN: All right. You know what I'm going to have to do?

(CROSSTALK)

BRAUN: ... something that's important to be said.

ZAHN: I want you all to hold your thoughts collectively. We need to take a short break. Carol, Michael and the reverend, please stay right where you are. We're going to continue our conversation right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY: We don't have time to argue about who's right and who's wrong. We've got too many children in prison, children in prison. We've got too many young girls who don't know how to parent, turning themselves into parents.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: And we are back now talking about Bill Cosby's very powerful campaign for more parental responsibility in the African- American community.

With me again, former ambassador, senator and presidential candidate, Carol Moseley Braun; Michael Eric Dyson of the University of Pennsylvania; and the Reverend Joe Watkins, who was a Bush campaign adviser.

Professor, do you think Bill Cosby's campaign is going it make any difference at all?

DYSON: Certainly. It has jump-started a conversation in America. I'm writing a book now entitled "Is Bill Cosby Right?" to respond, not simply to Mr. Cosby, but to the issues that he's put forth.

I would have desired for him, ideally, to put that forth, the arguments he's made, in the context where you can embrace people. You see, you can pour acid on them or you can woo them with honey. I'm not suggesting that he sugar-coat the truth. What I'm suggesting is that Mr. Cosby be more balanced.

ZAHN: Are you suggesting he poured acid on them?

WATKINS: This is a wake-up call.

DYSON: Let me finish, Joe.

WATKINS: This is a wake-up call.

DYSON: The point is that Mr. Cosby poured acid when he said the following things, very briefly, at the first speech. He said, you name your kids Shaliqua (ph), Taliqua (ph), Mohammed and all that crap. He said that your dirty laundry gets out everyday at 2:30.

He went on to suggest that people don't know how to speak and talk. And I'm suggesting to you that Bill Cosby has, first of all, reaped millions of dollars off of the black vernacular traditions of African-American people through his Fat Albert and so on.

He has been part of consumer American culture where he has produced products from Jell-O pudding pop to the...

WATKINS: Michael, the spirit of what Bill is doing is so right.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: I'm saying to you that Bill Cosby -- let me finish my point. Bill Cosby -- let me finish my point. Bill Cosby has contributed to the very consumptive desires of poor people looking at television wanting what they see on there as the spokesman for American capitalism. I'm suggesting in the broader strokes...

WATKINS: He's helping people to get there.

DYSON: ... that Mr. Cosby has to be -- has to be consistently...

WATKINS: You can't taste the American pie without an education, Michael.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: This is my point. Bill Cosby has to talk about the way in which people can become educated. I'm not suggesting that personal responsibility is not serious, but how do you give people the ability to become more personally responsible.

And let me tell you what, a sack of personal responsibility would do nothing in a global economy where jobs are being exported to foreign shores, where people who are poor...

WATKINS: Michael, a thought about that. It's about reaching people -- it's about reaching people right now who aren't making it, who aren't getting educated, who are doing -- who aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing.

And this is the best way -- I mean, Bill Cosby is touching these people right in the core, because they know it's coming -- it's coming from his heart, that he's sincere. He doesn't have to do this. He's using his fame and his celebrity to uplift people, to wake them up and to tell them, you know what? Take personal responsibility for your life. Take control of your life.

DYSON: You know what?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: I want to bring -- I want to bring the ambassador back into this conversation.

BRAUN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Do you think Bill Cosby wants it both ways here, Ambassador?

BRAUN: It's not a matter of wanting it both ways. You know, a century ago, W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington were pitted against each other as though they had two competitive messages. The fact is they were both right.

And I think that in this -- in this instance, Bill Cosby is right. But so is Michael Dyson. You can't talk about it without context. You have to talk about how do we create jobs, how do we give people opportunities?

WATKINS: He's doing that. What's he doing in Springfield, Massachusetts, Ambassador?

BRAUN: At the same time...

WATKINS: He's bringing people to the table.

DYSON: Let her finish!

BRAUN: Thank you.

WATKINS: I apologize, Michael. I apologize, Ambassador. I am sorry.

BRAUN: At the same time that we talk about how do we give people the tools with which to cope, to build community, to raise their children with what we have, what the realities are today? And both of those things are correct. You have to do both. And I think that's really the answer.

ZAHN: I want to give you a final, each one you 20 seconds a piece with a final thought on where you think Bill Cosby's campaign eventually takes us all? Because this certainly has applications for white Americans, as well.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

ZAHN: And, professor, you're first.

DYSON: Yes, well, first of all, we need to talk about personal responsibility in the context of political, economic and social reality.

No. 2, we must call the dominant society to be responsible itself, as well as the so-called minorities society.

No. 3, we must balance structural analysis, that is economic inequality, social injustice and persistence of lack of opportunity with people being personally responsible. Then we'd have a more balanced approach.

ZAHN: Reverend, I can only give you 10 seconds.

WATKINS: I understand. If Bill Cosby is right, we all win. Every single child who is lost, who becomes found and finds himself, helps us to win.

ZAHN: Ambassador, you get the last word. And a brief one at that.

BRAUN: That I hope -- I hope this puts us in a good direction.

ZAHN: I think we could all agree on that.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

ZAHN: Is that something all three of you can sign onto?

WATKINS: Absolutely, absolutely.

DYSON: Absolutely, amen.

ZAHN: Amen, Reverend.

WATKINS: Amen.

ZAHN: Michael Eric Dyson, Carol Moseley Braun and Reverend Joe Watkins...

WATKINS: Thanks.

ZAHN ... thank you all.

And if you want to know more about Bill Cosby and his mission, log onto CNN.com/Paula. We've got quite a program coming up for you tomorrow. We'll tell you more, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And thanks so much for joining us tonight for this special show.

Tomorrow, he has been dead for half a century, but sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey is stirring up Hollywood and the conservative right. Kinsey, sex and values, that's tomorrow.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with his guest, Dr. Phil. That's it for all of us here tonight. Again, thanks for joining us. Good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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