Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
White House Apologizes to Sherrod; Interview With Hugh Hefner
Aired July 22, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight, Hugh Hefner is here. The mogul who made Playboy a household name and gave millions to social causes stood up for African-Americans long before the majority. What does Hef think about race in 2010 America?
And then, President Obama calls Shirley Sherrod, expressing regret over the flap that cost her her job. Is it the end of a sorry chapter for the White House, the NAACP and others who rushed to judgment? What does it mean for race relations?
Next on LARRY KING LIVE.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
L. KING: Good evening. Let's get right to it. We welcome the Reverend Al Sharpton, National Action Network; Dana Loesch, organizer with the National Tea Party Coalition, talk radio host of "The Dana Show"; Penn Jillette, magician, comedian, actor, author and producer, the star of "Penn and Teller Live" at the Rio Hotel in Vegas; and Peter Beinart, senior political writer for "The Daily Beast", professor at City University of New York. We'll talk with them in a moment.
President Obama and Shirley Sherrod talked by phone today, and here's what she told CNN's John King about that conversation. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICER: I really did not want the president to say to me I'm sorry. You know, he's the president of the United States. I didn't really need to hear him say those words. I did need to hear them from the secretary and some others, but not necessarily from him. So --
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Did he use those words? Did the president say I'm sorry?
SHERROD: He didn't just come out and say I'm sorry, but, in every way -- the words he -- he did say to me, I think meant I'm sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
L. KING: OK. Let's go round robin on this. Al, was this a -- a two or three-day summer story or does it have large race implications?
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I think the implications here is when you have someone of her stature -- she was married to one of the leaders of SNCC. I can remember from a kid (ph) hearing the name Charles Sherrod, and someone who has served and someone who was telling a compelling story that I think is a healing story for America, how she grew.
Many of us have grown from bitterness and from things in 20, 24 years, and to see that distorted and used in an ugly way, that would cost her almost a career, had it not been corrected, I think is very scary and I think it will have more impact than two or three days because if you can do that to the Sherrods and do that on such a blatant distortion, then it has to make a lot of people wonder whether or not they're the next target.
L. KING: Dana, did the right wing go too far with this?
DANA LOESCH, ORGANIZER, NATIONAL TEA PARTY COALITION: I don't think -- in terms of going too far, no. I don't think so. And I -- you know, and I -- and what Reverend Sharpton said, I totally know what it's like to be gone after as a member of a grassroots movement. I've been put on the DHS list and I've been called Nazi by Congressional leadership and I've been called racist, along with millions of other conservative grassroots activists, and not just conservatives, libertarians, what have you.
So I think what we're seeing is we have a hyper racial paranoia environment going on, in part, that has been created by a political ideology that I think likes to use people as a voting block. And the casualty of this, unfortunately, was Shirley Sherrod, and it's -- I mean, it's just kind of sad when I -- when I sit back and -- and watch it.
L. KING: Well, Peter, it was the right wing that broke this about her and then had to apologize, right?
PETER BEINART, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, but I think if you -- if you step back and you look at this in a larger context, I mean, it was a tragic thing for this woman. It was -- it was ridiculous that the White House administration overreacted like this without knowing all the facts.
But if you step back and look at race relations and the politics of race in 2010, and compare that to 2010 or 20 years ago, we've made vast progress. I mean, we -- we have an African-American president. We don't have riots in this country. We have an African-American head of the GOP.
I think when we step back and look at this, obviously, there's still enormous racial problems, but the trajectory is really a positive one, overall.
L. KING: The president talked today to "ABC News" and addressed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's handling of the situation. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He jumped the gun partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles. And I've told my team and I told my agencies that we have to make sure that we're focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and -- and think these issues through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
L. KING: Reverend, is -- is the president just trying to please everybody?
SHARPTON: Well, I think he's the president for everyone. I don't think that it's about pleasing everyone. I think he's taking some very strong stands in some areas and other areas people would want to see stronger stands, depending on their point of view.
I think that he is absolutely correct about this media age and this quick reaction, and I think a lot of us in public life have to pause and say, wait a minute, let's get the facts here.
I also agree that a lot of progress has been made. I don't think any of us is denying that we've made a lot of progress, but making progress does not mean you've arrived.
Martin Luther King's dream is not a achieved by just making progress. Those that fought, black, white, Latino, for civil rights is achieved when there is full civil rights. So I think we're right to say we've made progress to show we can get there because look how far we've come, but we ought not to relax now and we ought not to let these kinds of distortions not alert us that we still have to be vigilant and careful because this woman, a grandmother, this could happen to, is -- is just scary and frightening.
L. KING: Let's bring Penn Jillette in from San Diego. Penn, is this a -- a blip story or does it have a larger meaning?
PENN JILLETTE, LIBERTARIAN: Well, you know, I think that it is someone who did something terribly wrong. Taking that clip out of context was evil and wrong and irresponsible, and I don't think there's anything else to say about larger issues.
I mean, we do a show called "B.S." where we interview people we don't agree with all the time and make very, very strong points, and it is always a temptation to take them out of context and you simply can't do it. So I think you just don't trust the people that took that out of context.
But I'm not sure it says horrible things about our country. It says something about someone who did something very wrong and bad.
L. KING: We'll have more right after this on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Still to come, Hugh Hefner. Don't go away.
L. KING: Dana Loesch, is this all a product of our times? Everybody -- everybody, right, left, NAACP jumped the gun?
LOESCH: Oh, you -- you nailed it, Larry. It is a complete product of our times. I think what we've seen here, we -- we saw the journalist, we saw the Department of Justice case. I think, quite honestly, what we saw was a political ideology that was desperate and this -- this -- I mean, what -- what is happening where everyone's just rock throwing with race? Something's racist, everything's racist? I can't --
That word's almost lost all meaning, and people who have really been rendered with -- with true injustice, their needs go unmet, and I, you know, Kenneth Gladney and Cedric Crenshaw (ph), and I could go on and on. And it just -- it is. It is a product of our times, and I know I've heard allegation that, you know, a lot of these videos were taken out of context. I completely, wholeheartedly, viciously disagree with the fact -- with the -- with the statement that they were taken out of context, too, and I know that was -- a remark was made earlier.
But it is. This is a hyper racial environment, and this was supposed to be a post racial era. And with all the progress that has been made, this is doing a lot to dismantle that and it's really -- it just hurts the heart to see it.
L. KING: Peter, is racist -- does the president have to make another speech about racism?
BEINART: No. the -the best thing that Barack Obama can ultimately do for race relations in the United States is to make America a more just society for poor people.
The greatest achievement for African-Americans have -- have been general achievements for poor and working class people in this country. The -- the great society, the new deal -- I think President Obama's work on health care, for instance, in fact, is a genuine move towards greater equality which will particularly help African- Americans, along with poor people of all races and ethnicities.
L. KING: Penn Jillette, here's what columnist Eugene Robinson, African-American himself, wrote in "The Washington Post" today, "A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African-Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites." You buy that, Penn?
JILLETTE: Well, I -- I don't know. I mean, I -- I'm pretty shocked. Was it not out of context? What -- everything I read, although I didn't see the whole tape, said that she was using this as an example of the way she was many, many years ago and she changed since then.
Is my -- am I misinformed on that? Because, if that's the case, then that story she was telling not being contemporary is really the whole issue, isn't it? I mean, this is one person's mistake, not a nation's mistake.
LOESCH: Yes, but then she went on to say at -- at --
L. KING: -- you don't think it was taken out of context, Dana?
LOESCH: Well, let's talk about -- I watched the whole entire 43- minute 15-second video twice now. Twenty-three minutes 53 seconds in, Shirley Sherrod talks about people who oppose health care as racist, and I watch it.
This is the thing. Shirley Sherrod -- this is what I want to so clearly get out. Shirley Sherrod talks about being oppressed by a system. If she were to escape from that system she would not have the same criticisms that she had on the video, and that's the thing.
SHARPTON: But that's not the tape, Larry, that they used. That -- that -- that's really not fair. You said that it was out of context. What was played was definitely out of context because they took her in the middle of her explaining a story of 24 years ago, and only put that out as if it was present.
They didn't use the part about health care. They didn't use the part about oppression. You go on to other parts of the speech --
LOESCH: No, and that was the worst part of it. That (INAUDIBLE).
SHARPTON: -- you can have a difference of opinion, but you cannot have a difference of facts. The facts is that the two minutes they put out was totally out of context.
JILLETTE: Yes, but the fact is if she said stuff you don't agree with other places --
LOESCH: The worst part of it is --
JILLETTE: The fact that she says something that you don't agree with other places does not excuse if that two minutes -- when I first saw it, I was not -- I was not aware she was talking about 24 years ago, and that seems like a vital piece of information --
LOESCH: Well, she was in the past tense with everything.
JILLETTE: -- for what you say (ph) on that clip.
LOESCH: She was in the past tense with absolutely everything, and she -- and you could hear her building up when she --
JILLETTE: But 24 years ago is different --
(CROSSTALK) LOESCH: -- and you could hear her building up to the fact that she had a change of heart, was is fantastic. But the thing is is I don't think Shirley Sherrod is a racist.
SHARPTON: But that wasn't in the clip. But that wasn't in the clip.
LOESCH: I think she uses race to promote class warfare, though. I do think that.
BEINART: Oh, OK, now -- now we get to --
BEINART: Now -- now we -- now we understand what this is really all about, right?
LOESCH: And I believe -- and I believe --
BEINART: When you pursue -- when you pursue policies --
LOESCH: -- the guy from "The Daily Beast" is talking about class warfare as social justice.
BEINART: If I could just --
LOESCH: How do you talk about oppression and the elimination of true opportunity for minority communities? How do you say that --
L. KING: Dana, let him finish. Let him respond, Dana. Peter, go ahead.
BEINART: Now we have a situation where we have Republican administrations for decades that dramatically increased disparities between rich and poor. That's not class welfare -- warfare -- welfare.
BEINART: But when -- actually, someone actually tries, in fact, to talk about the fact that we need to put our focus on economic policy, on people at the bottom, that becomes class warfare, and if I understand you, Dana, correctly, it's grounds for her dismissal. It just seems to me that --
LOESCH: You don't understand economics.
BEINART: Oh, thanks.
LOESCH: You do not understand economics.
BEINART: Explain it to me, then, please.
LOESCH: No, you don't. You're talking about -- you are talking about Marxist principles. You think that you can promote equality --
BEINART: Was Frank -- was Theodore Roosevelt a Marxist? Was Theodore Roosevelt a Marxist?
LOESCH: -- you think -- you deal with Marxist. You think that you can promote -
L. KING: One at a time.
LOESCH: -- equality by oppression --
BEINART: With all -- with all due respect -
L. KING: Hold it.
BEINART: -- that's a laughably absurd statement. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt --
LOESCH: No. Don't preface it "with all due respect" and then insult me.
BEINART: -- were not Marxists. They were anti -- they were anti-Marxist who believed in welfare state capitalism. You evidently don't know the difference.
LOESCH: That is the biggest lie promoted to minority communities of this age is that socialism -
BEINART: But what I mean, this is -- this is --
LOESCH: -- all of these policies will help equalize everything -
L. KING: Hold -- hold it. Guys, hold it.
LOESCH: -- and it doesn't.
L. KING: Dana, if you -- Peter, if you keep interrupting each other -
LOESCH: Yes, sir.
L. KING: -- we'll have to cut both microphones. All right, you want to comment, Al? Is this Marxism? Where are we now?
SHARPTON: Yes. I think that what we're dealing with is the typical politics of distraction. We're talking about an edited tape that almost cost someone their job, not talking about Dana's view of Marxism, not talking about all other kinds of distractions. And I think that what they have done is go into name-calling and distractions rather than deal with the facts. The fact is those two minutes were out of context. That's one.
Number two, class warfare. I agree with Peter. They had no problem when the upper class is getting the cuts. Dr. King's last campaign was for poor people. He was not calling for class warfare. He was calling for equality in terms of wealth distribution.
But that had nothing to do with why the tape was edited. It had nothing to do with the reaction and we should not allow her to change the conversation.
LOESCH: No, no, no. It is being used to promote class warfare, so, yes, I have to disagree with you Reverend Sharpton. It is related because it is being used right now -
SHARPTON: So whoever edited the tape -- edited the tape to stop class warfare.
LOESCH: It wasn't edited. It was not edited. It was not an edited tape. Have anyone that I'm speaking to here watch the entire 43 minute, 15 second tape? It was not an edited tape.
L. KING: She didn't get fired for the entire tape. Dana, she wasn't fired for the entire tape. She was fired for two minutes.
LOESCH: And that -- and you know what? The White House -
SHARPTON: And the two minutes is what was edited out of her speech.
LOESCH: -- it's sad that they did that (ph).
L. KING: Hey, guys, I'm going to take -- take a break and we'll come back -
SHARPTON: The two minutes was what was edited out of her speech.
L. KING: -- and try to get everyone --
We'll come back with more and get Penn Jillette's comment on all of this right after this.
L. KING: Penn Jillette, we've come a long way in race relations in America. How do you react to the latest polls which show Obama's favorability rating among blacks, 93 percent; Hispanics, 57 percent; whites, 37 percent? How do you read that?
JILLETTE: How long do we have to wait, Larry, before polls aren't broken down that way? It's -- I -- I don't know why that is. I mean, you could say that some people are -- are rooting for people like themselves. That's why the approval ratings haven't gone down. You can spin that any way at all.
I think that there's much more racial divide done by the media in these kinds of polls than I see day by day around me. But, again, I'm from Western Massachusetts. I have never -- I've never been discriminated against because of my race, and I have never been accused, luckily, of being a racist.
So I don't really have -- I'm not really qualified to say, but, boy, it would be nice now that we have an African-American president if we could just see those polls as a number of Americans and what we all have in common. But -- so I don't know.
L. KING: Peter, does it ever going to go away?
BEINART: You know, when you think about America's history, you know, for how long it was that African-Americans were slaves. How recent it was that African-Americans really got the vote, really only 40 or 50 years ago. I think, you know, one shouldn't expect that these things will go away overnight.
I mean, what -- what strikes me, really, if you look at in the long history of America's really, really terrible history on race relations, it's actually that we're in the best moment ever in American history by far. As Reverend Sharpton says, there's still a long way to go, but I think it's worth at least putting it in that context.
L. KING: Dana, do you believe it still exists to some fairly proportionate degree?
LOESCH: That racism exists? Yes, I do.
L. KING: Yes.
LOESCH: I saw it most recently with Cedra Crenshaw in Illinois, a black conservative woman being driven off the ballot. I saw it with Kenneth Gladney here in St. Louis which I would have loved to have seen Reverend Sharpton's presence for.
I do see it. And that's -- I mean, that's the thing. See, we shouldn't -- and Penn is so right, and I just want to applaud what he -- what he just said. I'm tired of seeing polling data broken down like this. We are Americans. We have American problems. We don't have problems with just with the black community. Those are problems that I see with the American community.
Educational inequality, problems with unemployment, all of that stuff, we share that. And when we can start focusing on that and quit trying to segregate everything, then we will be able to take another step forward with race relations.
L. KING: Al, is that right?
SHARPTON: I think that if we are realistic and say that the progress made was made because people struggled to make that progress, that we should engage in continuing, at this time, in the struggle to make that happen. I think that if we're honest we would have to say that if a white child, a black child and a Latino and Asian child were born tonight, they will not face the same life in terms of healthcare and education. We've got to fight until they do. It's a lot better than it was 40 years ago, but it's not equal.
And I don't need Karl Marx to tell me that. I need the reality of it and we need to come together. And I would gladly -if any of our candidates will put up the ballot because of the color of their skin, I would stand up for them. I even fight for the rights of people to be wrong.
L. KING: Thank you all very much. Another chapter in America's long and disturbing racial history.
Speaking of that, Hugh Hefner is with us. A lot of people know Hugh Hefner is just from "Playboy" and all the rest. You have to know, he was one of the earliest fighters in America for civil rights. There's a new documentary out that covers that, and we'll meet Hugh Hefner right after these words.
L. KING: We go back a long ways. Hugh Hefner is the founder, editor-in-chief and chief creative officer of "Playboy". He's the subject of a new documentary. It opens July 30th wide called "Hugh Hefner, Playboy, Activist, Rebel".
Is this your documentary or was it some group producing it about you?
HUGH HEFNER, FOUNDER, EDITOR IN CHIEF AND CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER, PLAYBOY: It's produced by a young lady named Briggite Berman from Canada.
L. KING: I she -- who? Trace (ph) your whole career and follow you around as well?
HEFNER: Well, not really. That -- I think that what -- she won an Academy Award some years ago for a documentary on Artie Shaw, and that's how we originally met. And what she was interested in doing was the part of my life that most people don't know about.
L. KING: Are you happy with it?
HEFNER: More than happy, yes.
L. KING: Let's take a look at the clip from the new documentary about Hefner. You'll see it everywhere July 30th, watch.
REVEREND JOE JACKSON: I was attracted to him basically because he was so committed to Dr. King. And -- and when Dr. King was killed, I mean, the outpouring of support and affection coming from Hef was significant in my mind at that time.
HEFNER: We published the last piece ever written by Martin Luther King and we published it shortly after his death that his widow actually edited.
There's an outrageous incongruity of it all. Of course, that we should be sitting there in the Hef pad listening to Martin Luther King's dream. Yes, well, people don't recognize or realize the extent to which it was part of my dream, too.
(END VIDEOTAPE) L. KING: How did you first become involved in this, we call it anti-segregation movement?
HEFNER: Well, I don't know --
L. KING: You got to college, right?
HEFNER: Yes, well, you know, in a small way. But, you know, I was never really part of a major movement as such. I think there were a couple of occasions I went to the University of Illinois and there were a couple of occasions where there were some segregated restaurants and I was there with the students protesting that.
But, you know, it just comes from family. I think that, you know, bigotry comes from family. I was raised, you know, in a very conservative mid-western Methodist family, but there was no racism. And I -- I think -- think that, you know, my part in terms of all this, really was related to the fact that when I did the television show it was a social setting, appeared to be a party in my apartment.
L. KING: Sure.
HEFNER: And, you know, black and white -- you know, mixed as they did in my home. And back in 1959, 1960, that was unusual for network television. And the same thing when we opened the clubs. Dick Gregory was the first black performer who appeared in a club that wasn't a black club. And when we -- when there were clubs opened -- franchise clubs in Miami and New Orleans, we expected our black members to be accepted there. And when they were not, we bought back the franchises, even though it cost us a little money.
KING: Did you ever understand why people would not like people because of something like skin pigment?
HEFNER: Well, it's that crazy notion of, you know, birds of a feather flock together, the notion that, somehow or other, if the person is a little different than somebody, they're suspicious of them. And its one of the sad things for me on this planet, whether it's race or religion or whatever it is. We live on one very small planet and we ought to learn to live together.
KING: You think it's fear?
HEFNER: Partly, fear of the unknown, fear of the different.
KING: Did anybody in television attack you for doing -- you did integrated television early.
HEFNER: We simply didn't get any southern -- we were a syndicated show, and we were not distributed in the south. And I knew that was going to happen.
KING: As he mentioned, he pushed hard, did Hef, for black entertainers, writers and musicians to get the recognition they deserve. Let's take another look at Hugh Hefner, "Playboy," activist, rebel. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where you would see all of those great jazz folks that he brought on, or hear them other than their music, you know? And so he brought them alive. He saw another human side of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, if you're going to give me this -- and there's only one way I know how to exit with you. And that's --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He was something. Martin Luther King went to the "Playboy" mansion?
KING: Some say, yes, Hef, you supported blacks, but you set back the women's movement.
HEFNER: Well, it takes a very curious attitude toward "Playboy" to come up with that conclusion. In other words, the notion that our sexuality, the fact that we're attracted to the opposite sex, that there are two sexes on the planet, is a blessing. And it's something I think we ought to celebrate. The fact that there are hang ups related to it I think is reflective of the fact that we are and still remain, essentially, a puritan people.
KING: You don't think that "Playboy" at all made women objects rather than equals?
HEFNER: I think that women, in the best sense, and not in an negative sense, are objects of desire. That is a celebration of one's own sexuality and the fact that we are two sexes. And what "Playboy" tried to the, quite frankly, is to elevate it to another kind of level, you know, that did celebrate that.
And prior to "Playboy," there were lots of connections with sexuality in magazines, but they were connected to sin and sensationalism. "Playboy" tried to give it a little bit of style. And I think you need to talk, quite frankly, to the women who posed for "Playboy" and see how they feel about it. Most of them continue to be friends over more than half a century. And I get wonderful cards at Christmas and birthdays.
KING: They still want to pose, right?
HEFNER: They still want to pose.
KING: How do you feel, personally, after all you've seen and opposed and supported about seeing a black president?
HEFNER: Well, I'm glad I lived long enough to see it. You know, I wish -- I was a Obama supporter. I voted for him. I do wish he'd get on with it a little bit. I think we got a lot of things to do.
KING: But you still support him?
KING: Has he disappointed you in some regards?
HEFNER: Just in the sense that, you know, we have -- the Democrats are in control of both houses. We have a black president. And things are going very slowly. That's all.
KING: We'll be right back with Hugh Hefner. The documentary opens July 30th. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: There's the Hef and the pipe in the road and "Playboy," that is his brand name. But then there's Hef, the serious thinker, activist. And the magazine was used as a tool.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It was. The documentary, "Hugh Hefner, Playboy Activist Rebel," opens on July 30th. You'll learn a lot about Hef you may not have known. We were discussing with the panel in the last segment -- the recent poll comes out -- a lot of people attacked the poll. But 93 percent of African-Americans favor Obama, only 37 percent of whites. Does it bother you to see a poll like that?
HEFNER: Well, it indicates the racial divide that still exists. And it's sad, sure.
KING: Why doesn't it go away? Maybe that's a simpleton question.
HEFNER: Why, indeed? It is so destructive. Destructive to the person who does the hating..
KING: It's also economically destructive.
HEFNER: Yes, on every kind of level, yes. I hate the boundaries and the walls that separate us on every kind of level whether it's race, religion, national. We live on one very small planet and we need to find ways to live together.
KING: Was it tough to speak out?
HEFNER: No, never difficult. No. I think that I'm privileged to be in a position to be able to speak out, be able to make some difference. I think that of all the many things that I'm grateful for in my life is the fact that I've been able to make a difference, and in the process have a lot of fun doing it.
KING: And you used the magazine, frankly, as a tool, did you not?
KING: The "Playboy Forum"?
HEFNER: Yeah. To begin with, the magazine started in 1953 and it was really a lifestyle magazine. But in the early '60s, the magazine was so successful, I knew I could do the other half of what I'm really all about, which is social justice. It wasn't simply race. It had to do with sexual prejudice and it had to do with drug prejudice. It had to do with --
KING: How about gays?
HEFNER: Very much related to gays. We did a piece that had been turned down by "Esquire" called "The Crooked Man." We published it in the middle 1950s. It was about two church society in which normal was homosexual and the aberrations were heterosexual. It simply turned the thing over. It was very controversial at the time. And some, in some quarters, considered homophobic at the time. And it was intended to be exactly the opposite.
KING: I had the honor of being a "Playboy" interviewee in the mid '90s. How important was that interview? Did you come back with that initiative? Was Q&A in the first issue?
HEFNER: No. No. When I talked about the other half of what I was all about -- in other words, that part, the "Playboy" philosophy, the "Playboy" interview, and the nonfiction on controversial subjects began, really, in the early 1960s.
And the first one we did was conducted by Alex Haley, who did a whole bunch of them for us. And it was with Miles Davis. And he didn't talk about jazz. He talked about race. That was the beginning of it. And Alex Haley did Martin Luther King for us and Malcolm X and did the American neo-Nazi.
KING: Oh, yeah. Rockwell, right?
HEFNER: Yes. Not Norman.
KING: No, not Norman. Quite a difference. Do you think we'll ever see a day when it's not an issue, when we will be color blind? Really color blind?
HEFNER: I can't answer that. It certainly won't happen in our lifetime. You know, look at how separated we are by religions. Religion is supposed to bring us together, but religion becomes one of the major sources of conflict on the planet. How crazy is that? You know, the thing that concerns me, quite frankly, is that we live on a planet in which our technology and our science has gotten to such a level in which we can destroy the planet and one another, and we've not yet learned to live together. Crazy.
KING: Technology is way ahead of humankind, right?
KING: It boggles the mind.
HEFNER: Yes, we're still superstitious savages in the jungle on that level.
KING: However, there's another side, though. We're still better than most, aren't we, as a country?
HEFNER: Yes. I certainly think that if one looks back over the centuries, we're certainly making progress. We're moving in the right direction.
HEFNER: There's hope for mankind.
KING: Do you feel like you've lived through it all?
HEFNER: We've certainly lived through very interesting times. Yes, I think the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century was a fascinating time.
KING: Were you against the Vietnam War early?
HEFNER: Yes, yes, and said so in the magazine.
KING: We'll be back with more with Hugh Hefner. The documentary is "Hugh Hefner: Playboy Activist Rebel," opens July 30th.
Tomorrow night, we'll look at the prison system in America. Don't go away.
KING: What do you make of this whole Shirley Sherrod thing?
HEFNER: A quick rush to judgment. You know, sad.
KING: Taking a tape out of context?
HEFNER: Obviously fed to us out of context. But, you know, too quickly to rush to judgment, I think.
KING: Do you -- over all these years, do you look at yourself -- a successful man, do you look at as an underdog?
HEFNER: No, I don't, really, no. I certainly am on -- in areas of controversy, sometimes in the minority. But one follows one's heart and pursues what one believes in. And that's always been what it's all about for me.
KING: There's -- I'm diverting a little. There's stories in newspapers that you want "playboy's" public company -- you want to take it private and own it back yourself. First, why?
HEFNER: Well, it isn't really just for myself. I'm concerned about -- as a matter of fact, it really isn't that personal. It's really concerned about continuity in terms of the brand and a need to partner in a way that gives us more financial stability. I need to be sure -- you know, I just celebrated my 84th birthday. I want to be sure that the brand and the magazine are secure and going in the right direction.
KING: And if it stayed public, that wouldn't be secure?
HEFNER: Then I think that it's unknown. Certainly, the stock at present is undervalued. I just -- just concerned in terms for the future.
KING: How about stories that someone may outbid you for your own company?
HEFNER: It isn't possible to do that because I have -- I'm in a position of control. So all of these talks about the notion that the brand or the company is in play is simply untrue. It isn't and can't be because I control it.
KING: When will you have it as a private company?
HEFNER: I don't know. We'll see how that plays out. It will only happen if we reach a proper price that is satisfactory to the minority stock holders, and is fair to everybody.
KING: Did you ever envision the success that "Playboy" has become?
HEFNER: No, how could I? I started the magazine on 600 borrowed dollars, a total investment from friends and relatives of 8,000 dollars, just enough to start -- publish the first issue, with no notion of what lay ahead.
KING: What year was that?
KING: Who was the cover?
HEFNER: Marilyn Monroe, good choice.
KING: Posed picture?
HEFNER: It was a pick-up photo. The first -- most of the first year was pick-up material.
KING: You bought it from a freelancer?
HEFNER: From a photographer.
KING: Was the first issue a success?
HEFNER: Yes, hugely successful or I wouldn't be around for the second issue. But the second issue didn't have Marilyn in it, sold more than the first. It was what caught the attention of the people. It was the Monroe nude in that first issue that got the initial attention. What made the magazine successful was the message. It was a lifestyle magazine for single guys. Back in the 1950s, that was a revolution.
KING: Was there a centerfold in the first issue?
HEFNER: Yes, although it was a single page.
KING: Was there a centerfold in the second issue?
HEFNER: Single page. We didn't get to the --
HEFNER: Yes, we didn't get that until about the second or third year.
KING: The magazine is in trouble now. The world has changed.
KING: The arrival of the Internet, right?
KING: Can you make money off the Internet?
HEFNER: Does anybody?
KING: I don't know.
HEFNER: Some people, I guess. No, I don't think we're making anything significant out of it yet. But, at the same time, you know, it's a very nice way to interconnect with your audience. You get a playback immediately. I became -- I got a gift from my girlfriend, Crystal Harris, give me an iPad.
KING: Do you like it?
HEFNER: I like it very much. And I'm now a Twitter bug. When I was a kid, I was a jitter bug. Now I'm a Twitter bug.
KING: Speaking of girlfriend, how many have you had?
HEFNER: How many?
KING: Girlfriends, when you count up the number?
HEFNER: I haven't been counting. KING: How many do you have now?
HEFNER: Just one.
HEFNER: I'm settling down.
KING: No more of the threesomes, huh?
HEFNER: No, no. Very nice lady.
KING: There's more to come with Hugh Hefner. We're going to ask about the first African-American playmate. We'll get to that in a little while.
It's time for this week's hero. She trains volunteer sister friends who support new moms through their pregnancies and their baby's first year. Thousands of children have been born into Kathryn Hall-Trujillo's sisterhood, which she calls the Underground Railroad for new life. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHRYN HALL-TRUJILLO, CNN HERO: As a public health administrator, I use the words infant mortality every day. But until I held a dead baby in my arms, I never realized that that meant counting dead babies.
My name is Katherine Hall-Trujillo and I remind women they're really sisters and can help each other have healthier babies.
What we're saying is that you don't have to have this by yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The birthing project takes regular women in a community like me to work closely with the little sisters, whether it's figuring out how you're going to pay your rent, do you have food in your house, making sure she's doing her prenatal appointments. It's all because I'm trying to make sure that you're not stressed in order for you to have a healthy baby.
HALL-TRUJILLO: We've been doing this long enough now that you can hear a child say "I was born into the Birthing Project." That means more to me than anything I may have given up. Because, in return, I have received a whole community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Kathryn's project has welcomed more than 12,000 babies in 94 communities across five countries. To nominate someone you think is changing the world, go to CNN.com/Heroes. We'll be back with Hugh Hefner after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RENEE TENISON, FORMER PLAYMATE OF THE YEAR: I feel that, you know, my being named the Playmate of the Year for 1990, it's very special to me and I would hope that it would be a role model for other black women out there who wanted to be in "Playboy" or who wanted to be maybe in "Vogue" or whatever, just to take the initiative to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Renee Tenison, who became the first African- American Playmate of the Year in 1990. That's 20 years ago. Why did it take so long?
HEFNER: Well, we had -- the first black Playmate was in the middle of the 1960s.
KING: That was historic.
HEFNER: Yes, well, you know, becoming a Playmate of the Year is a very competitive kind of thing. The interesting thing about Renee is she's an identical twin.
KING: Why wasn't her partner --
HEFNER: That's right, she decided to pose and her sister didn't. Then afterwards, of course, because of all the celebrity, et cetera, then the sister wanted to pose and they posed together.
KING: Do you keep up with the Playmates?
HEFNER: Yes. One of the nice things -- they talk about the Playboy family, and it's really true. I continue to hear from Playmate friends from all the decades.
KING: How is Renee doing? Do you hear from Renee?
HEFNER: Oh yea, absolutely. I think both she and her sister were here for the last big party.
KING: Are they married?
HEFNER: They're both married.
KING: All right. You just celebrated your 84th birthday. You're trying to buy back the magazine. Do you ever think of just, as Adlai Stevenson once said, go out on the beach and eat some strawberries and watch the dancers?
HEFNER: I think that -- if you stop doing what you love, I think it is the first step towards the grave. I think that it is the combination of the work and play that keeps you alive, keeps you vital, keeps you connected.
KING: Health deteriorates if you permanently retire?
HEFNER: I think so. KING: What do you want your legacy to be? Hugh Hefner, businessman, civil rights activist, philanthropist?
HEFNER: Somebody who played some positive part in the changing social sexual values of my time. I think I'm pretty secure in that.
KING: Do you still read every page of every issue?
HEFNER: No, no.
HEFNER: I used to in the very beginning. The magazine -- the major headquarters are in Chicago. What I still do is pick the covers, pick the Playmates, pick the pictorials, oversee the total package, and see that it's together and making sense.
KING: What's Christy doing now? She left the magazine?
HEFNER: She left the magazine, but she certainly isn't retired. She keeps showing up on CNN and cNBC and she's --
KING: What does she do?
KING: What does she do?
HEFNER: She's a political pundit. She's a very bright lady. She talks about whatever they ask related to business affairs, politics or whatever.
KING: Beautiful girl.
HEFNER: Yes, inside and out.
KING: How old are your boys now?
HEFNER: My two kids are 20 and 19. They're both in college, Martin and cooper. I'm very proud and very lucky.
KING: What do they want to do? Do they want to run the magazine?
HEFNER: It's not clear at this particular point. And that's probably a good thing at this particular age. They know that that's certainly an option for them, in terms of working for the magazine. But I think, you know, we have to wait and see.
KING: Continued good health, Hugh.
HEFNER: Thank you.
KING: You're a young 84 and you've changed America.
HEFNER: Thank you very much. KING: Hugh Hefner, founder, editor in chief, chief creative officer "Playboy," the subject of a new documentary which will premiere July 30th. The title is "Hugh Hefner, Playboy Activist Rebel."
We'll talk prison reform tomorrow night. Michael Moore will be here next Tuesday. Laura Ingraham will be with us on Wednesday. We got a great lineup coming your way. Coming your way now, Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?