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Donald Sterling: Free Speech or Justified Punishment?; Gay Kiss Starts Tweet War

Aired May 12, 2014 - 18:30   ET


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Wolf, we're looking ahead to Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with NBA owner Donald Sterling. And we're debating the liberals' fantasy of a speech-controlled America.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And we're also debating the idea some conservatives have that when we keep living in a country with liberty and justice for some. The debate is going to start right now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, a CNN exclusive. The public shame of Donald Sterling.

DONALD STERLING, OWNER, L.A. CLIPPERS: I'm not a racist. I made a terrible, terrible mistake.

ANNOUNCER: Should the NBA still force him to sell the Clippers?

And, this historic kiss is drawing praise and outrage.

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Jamal Anderson, a former pro athlete, and Harry Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church. Are the speech police out of control? Or are bigots getting what they deserve? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


JONES: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, guests with very different views about free speech. In 90 minutes, L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling speaks in an exclusive interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Here's a preview.


STERLING: I'm a good member (ph) who made a mistake, and I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness. Am I entitled to one mistake after 35 years? I mean, I love my league. I love my part. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake. And I'll never do it again.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The vice president of the NBA Players Association, Roger Mason. He said that the players won't accept anyone in the Sterling family owning the Clippers: not you, not your wife, not your son-in-law, not your daughter. Do you believe that?

STERLING: I really don't know. The people that are going to decide my fate, I think, are not the media and not the players union, but the NBA.

COOPER: The owners.

STERLING: Pardon me?

COOPER: The owners.

STERLING: The owners. If the owners feel I deserve another chance, then they'll give it to me.

COOPER: But there is a path for you to fight their decision. Isn't there?

STERLING: Of course. But if you fight with my partners, what at the end of the road, what do I benefit? And especially at my age? If they fight with me, and they spend millions and I spend millions, let's say I win or they win. I just don't know if that's important.

COOPER: Why wait so long to apologize? It's been a couple weeks. You could have come out --

STERLING: That's a very good question. I just -- I'm so emotionally distraught. And the reason it's hard for me, very hard for me is that I'm wrong. I caused the problem. I don't know how to correct it.

COOPER: Do you trust people? I mean --


COOPER: -- there have been a couple phone recordings just in the last week or two that have come out of people you've talked to on the phone, or seems to be your voice, who then sold it to Radar Online or TMZ. And I hear that and I think, do you have anyone you trust around you?

STERLING: I don't give interviews. The only one that I know that I talked to is Magic Johnson.

COOPER: You have talked to him?

STERLING: Twice. And then -- yes.

COOPER: Did you apologize?

STERLING: He knew the girl, he said. He knew the girl well.

COOPER: Did you apologize to him?

STERLING: Well, if I said anything wrong, I'm sorry. He's a good person, and he -- what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. But I'll say it, I'll say it, you know, he's great. But I just don't think he is a good example for the children of Los Angeles.


GINGRICH: You can see the entire interview at 8 Eastern on CNN's "ANDERSON COOPER 360."

You know, we used to be a free country. Now we've entered an era of public self-confessions by people who have said or done inappropriate things as defined by the elite. It isn't just Donald Sterling. If you're a Christian, the elites say keep your mouth shut or we will punish you. If you're against gay marriage, the elites say keep your mouth shut or we'll pun issue. The left's vision that we're becoming a more inclusive country is just baloney. We're actually becoming a more repressive country.

JONES: You know, I have to disagree with you on this one, Newt. First of all, I think the people who get told to shut up are, like, gays and lesbians who are still by the millions in the closet. They're afraid to speak up and talk about their lives. You've got women who have scared.

So look, we've got some people who can talk about this. This is a big deal in the country right now.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we have former NFL star Jamal Anderson and Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of the Hope Christian Church. He's actually the founder and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition.

I want to start with you. I just don't get this. OK?


JONES: This is business. You're a conservative.

JACKSON: Uh-huh.

JONES: You have always stood for the right of businesses and corporations to do what they want to. This is about a free market. What is wrong with a corporation like the NFL saying they don't want to be associated this guy? What's wrong with that?

JACKSON: I'm concerned about due process. If we were back during the days of Jim Crow and you happened to be black during that time, you would have been in a world of hurt. So it depends who's on top and who feels they have the upper hand.

As Newt implied, we are at a juncture in history now where some people are on the out. And with, you know, Michael Sam, as he is embracing his partner, a guy tweets, Derrick Ward, and says, "Hey, oh my goodness, this is on TV." And now there's repercussions about that. Where is the line is all I'm talking about?

JONES: I want to get you in here, because obviously you're the NFL guy. Go ahead. I want to -- JAMAL ANDERSON, FORMER PRO ATHLETE: First of all, you said the NFL. This is an NBA --

JONES: I'm sorry. NBA, NBA. We got both of them in the mix.

JACKSON: You have to distance yourself.

JONES: Hopefully, we don't have an owner who makes such salacious remarks. We don't want to dance away from that.

JACKSON: Reprehensible.

ANDERSON: Here's the thing. We've seen -- we've seen the due process here. There was a time here, almost a week before Adam Silver made a decision to ban David [SIC] Sterling for life. There was a process -- a process and a group of owners who decided, who agreed with Donald Sterling to ban him.

The things that he said and the things that he's done, this is a guy who, when he bought the Clippers in 1981, he signed an agreement. He signed a series of contracts and amendments that have since been updated each and every time that there's supposed to be a certain amount of behavior. You're not supposed to do anything detrimental to the league or the NBA. You think this isn't? I mean, the sponsors walked away from him.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you something --

ANDERSON: It's a business problem, too, though.

GINGRICH: Sure. No, it is a business problem. The thing I find fascinating, other than the fact you now live in a country where you have this pathetic statement by an 80-year-old guy. Look at his body language. It's painful to watch this, OK? So we're going through sort of a malice confession phase.

But here's what I'm intrigued by. Black Business Association 2008 honored him as a great leader. 2009, the NAACP in Los Angeles give him an award as a great leader. They were about to give him an award this year. And here's why they said they were doing it.

JACKSON: You've got to question the motives. Go ahead.

GINGRICH: But here's -- in fact, there's a poster that they had printed up during this 100th anniversary. But here's what they said they were doing it for.

He gave away, according to them, 2,000 to 3,000 tickets every game for poor children to be able to go to basketball. And they said this is a guy who has really reinvested in the neighborhoods.

Now, everything he has said, that's gotten him in trouble, was off of a tape --


GINGRICH: -- to a girlfriend.

ANDERSON: There's no question.

GINGRICH: So we now live -- let me ask it this way. Out of all the different team owners in the country, because up until that girlfriend released that tape, he would not have been somebody who said we have to -- fire him from the team.

Are you willing to say tonight that we can be sure, if we get rid of Sterling, that there's not another owner who's a hidden bigot who some morning is going to have a tape released or do something else? Because he did nothing public. It was all private.

ANDERSON: I don't think you can make those assurances. Here's the thing, Newt. Yes, the way, the dubious way the tape was released. I mean, come on. It was foul, how the whole process went up.

JACKSON: Absolutely.

ANDERSON: But the reality is if it's an accident or if it's something that he didn't -- he didn't deny it, No. 1.

No. 2, Adam Silver when he announced his punishment, he couldn't even tell the American people that this guy had apologized at this point. He's just now apologizing weeks later. The morality clause ownership sign is your conduct cannot be detrimental to the NBA.

JACKSON: It's reprehensible, if I can just throw this in. Nobody is defending this guy as it stands. I've written books. You've written books. Everybody's written a book. You got to say this kind of moral interpretative clause like the owners phraseology. So somebody's going to determine whether your morality or conduct is correct.

All I think Newt and I are saying is that there's a slippery slope.

JONES: Well, listen. To me, this is bigger than just this morning. Guys, this is about more than one bigoted billionaire. It's really about dealing with intolerance from coast to coast.

Over the weekend, as you mentioned, the Twitterverse exploded in reaction to this kiss. Now, the NFL has already handed out some punishments.

First I want to ask you this question. Look at today's "Fireback Quiz." In how many states can you be fired just for being gay? Is it none? Is it 15? Or is it 29? We're going to give you those answers when we get back, after these messages.


JONES: Welcome back.

In little more than one hour, NBA owner Donald Sterling is going to speak out in an exclusive interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

But there is new controversy in sports tonight. Over the weekend, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. This kiss celebrating his pick ignited a firestorm. Now, Miami Dolphins player Don Jones actually tweeted "OMG" and "horrible" in response to this kiss.

Now, thankfully, the NFL was quick to punish Jones. And that is because the Miami Dolphins know what the rest of corporate America has already figured out, teams are businesses and intolerance is bad for business.

Now, back in the CROSSFIRE, we've got Jamal Anderson and Bishop Harry Jackson Jr.

Now, some conservatives say this is about living in a free country and how we need to preserve our freedom. We should not be punishing people.

But let me ask this question. What is free about gay employees who are unable to express themselves for fear of being fired?

Look at tonight's CROSSFIRE quiz: in 29 states, more than half the country, you can be fired, even if you're doing a great job, just for being gay.

Now, Bishop, how do you square that with your conservative commitment to freedom? Where's the freedom in that map?

JACKSON: Well, as an African-American, I'm not for anybody being truly discriminated against. But if you have a different code of lifestyle and you want to live a different way, you shouldn't be hindered. There's a difference between you saying terrible, discriminatory things, firing people off of jobs. Doing the Don Sterling thing is really reprehensible in terms of his attitude.

JONES: Let me just -- I really want do get your response to this.


JONES: I hear people saying, you know, we're losing our freedom. Newt said at the beginning we're becoming a repressive country. And the people who are the most passionate about saying that, I don't see them jumping up and saying, so, therefore let's not repress gays, let's not repress lesbians, let's not have people being fired.

Why don't you see the conservatives who are so passionate the guy who's tweeting the word "horrible", being passionate about people who are being treated horribly/

JACKSON: Well, if there's an imposition of one group's will upon another, the Chic-fil-A thing comes to mind. Someone makes a statement about how they feel about marriage based on their biblical beliefs, and then, all of a sudden, you got people trying to shout you down. The history of CNN has been good because you have been able to hear the other side on gay marriage and other things. But often out there, we don't have the freedom.

GINGRICH: Jamal, let me give you an example. Let me say in advance, I think Michael Sam is a brilliant marketeer. We'll see how good a football player he is. If you look at his new Visa commercial, which apparently had already been cut, has already ready before Saturday, I mean, this guy understands how to manipulate the media and maximize his impact.

Take the case of Derrick Ward, retired Super Bowl champion. He's now getting death threats because of the following tweet. He tweeted, "I'm sorry, but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national TV. I'm fine with it being a new day and age, but for him to do that on national TV is disgusting, gay or not. Man, you have little kids looking at the draft. I can't believe ESPN even allowed that to happen."

Now, doesn't it worry you that he apparently is getting death threats for this tweet?

ANDERSON: There's no question it worries me that he's getting death threats. When you tweet out about inclusiveness and acceptance and understanding, part of that is a new clip on ESPN where a gay athlete for the first time ever is being drafted into the NFL, that celebration is part of it.

Nobody would have said anything if Michael Sam would have turned and kissed a beautiful young lady. It would have been something we've seen all the time. He's a gay American. This is, in fact, how he chose to celebrate.

Yes, it surprised a lot of people and may have been the first time a lot of people have seen that, but this is about inclusiveness. This is about --

GINGRICH: Let me go specifically, because I think you talk about how you want to be inclusive, except, of course, if somebody tweets this, having a death threat or let's send them off to sensitivity training. I mean, it strikes me, that's repression. That's not inclusive.

ANDERSON: Is it repression to try to teach them to be understanding and open to other people? Maybe -- especially when you talk about people they have not been exposed to?

GINGRICH: Shouldn't you also be teaching people gay understanding of people --


ANDERSON: That's a good point.

JONES: I think that people who are gay and people who are lesbian have to spend their entire lives learning how to get around the minefields. This whole term "out of the closet" is a reflection of the fact they have to deal with those minefields.

My question to you is simply this, you know, is it your view a corporation does not have the right to pick and choose who it wants to itself associate with? They do. And part of the thing is, you know, when we talk about the kinds of speech that I think everybody finds offensive, I want to show this, these kinds of signs, like this, this is free speech, but I don't think any corporation in the world would want to be associated with that. Do you agree with that?

JACKSON: I absolutely agree with you, but what's concerning to me is a slippery slope of who gets to decide who gets punished.

JONES: Hold on a second, no --

JACKSON: I've had death threats, by the way.

JONES: So have I. But no government agency -- can you tell me the government agency that's forcing the NBA or NFL to do this? Isn't this about businesses understanding where the market is?

JACKSON: It is, but in a strange way, this guy is going to make a bazillion dollars and he gets rewarded at the end of the day for his bigotry. So are we giving him or the society the sleeves out of our vest and we're making all this --


GINGRICH: Look, I think this whole thing is a fiasco, because you have a clever young guy who has manipulated the system brilliantly and he's now caught a Visa ad.

ANDERSON: I don't think --

GINGRICH: Just watch the Visa commercial.

ANDERSON: Here's the thing -- I understand you, but I don't think you can say he's manipulated the situation. I understand the immense amount of bravery it takes to come forward and to come out as a player, where he came out and also put himself in a draft, first player ever.

GINGRICH: Watch the commercial. All I ask you, watch the commercial.

ANDERSON: Another key for Michael Sam, Johnny Manziel, 22nd pick, big time in the draft. Obviously, everybody was talking about it. Right now currently of new players, the number two jersey seller is Michael Sam.

GINGRICH: Let me say, stay here, we want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question.

Should fellow NBA owners force Donald Sterling to sell his team? Tweet yes or no using #Crossfire. We will have the results after the break.

We also have the outrage of the day. I'm always outraged by liberal denial. You'll see the latest example, next.


Now, our outrages of the day. I'm outraged about liberals' endless capacity to deny the fact. The latest example is Eleanor Clift on public television.


ELEANOR CLIFT: I would like to point out that Ambassador Stevens was not murdered, he died of smoke inhalation in a safe room in that CIA installation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that's a fact, Eleanor.

CLIFT: I think that is a fact.



GINGRICH: The fact is, there never would have been a fire if terrorists had not attacked the Benghazi post. They did. Ambassador Chris Stevens died. It was murder and it was done by Islamic extremists. No amount of liberal denial will make it anything else.

JONES: I will not argue with you about that.

I'm actually outraged at Louisiana Republican Congressman John Fleming.

Now, he was asked about our veterans who are dying while they're on the waiting list at the V.A. This is a terrible scandal. Everybody's upset about it, both parties are outraged. Nobody should use the strategy, though, to score cheap political points.

Except Fleming, who said, quote, "This is the type of thing you would see from, you guessed it, Obamacare." OK, now, look, first of all, Obamacare is saving lives right now, but if you want to have this discussion, you know what's really killing people? Go ask the 40 Republican governors who are blocking the expansion of Medicaid, denying health care about 20 million people.

Now, that could kill about 6,000 people a year and one of the governors who's doing this, Congressman, is in Louisiana.

So, if you're concerned about politicians messing up health care, start by giving your governor, Bobby Jindal, a call. So --

GINGRICH: We'll debate that later.

Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Should fellow NBA owners force Donald Sterling to sell his team? Right now, 35 percent of you say yes, 65 percent of you say no. How would you two vote?

ANDERSON: I would vote yes. I would vote yes. I think it's pretty clear, the statement from the mayor's office said we still believe a change in the organization is good for our city and for our players.

JACKSON: I'd like to see more ongoing penal penalties and see him rehabilitate himself somehow.

JONES: Yes, I agree with that.

ANDERSON: Seventy percent African-Americans, who's going to coach? Who's going to play for him?

JONES: Very good. I want to thank you, Jamal Anderson, and also, you, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr.

The debate is going to continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE. And tomorrow at 3:30, I'll be answering questions on Facebook.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.