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Has The NFL Become Too Involved In Social Activism?; Are Some In The Media Taking It Easy On Joe Biden?; Can Firefighting Alone Stop Western Wildfires?; Should A Movie Be Required To Meet Diversity Standards? Aired 9-10a ET
Aired September 12, 2020 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: This time it really is a political football. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. The NFL kicked off their regular season Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Houston Texans. The rest of the league will begin tomorrow.
Much has changed in the NFL since Colin Kaepernick drew the league's ire for taking a knee in 2016. This was the first look at the NFL since America entered this period of racial reconciliation after George Floyd died in Minneapolis in May. After Floyd's killing, the NFL pledged $250 million over a decade to address social issues. In June, Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for the League's prior stance.
Due to the pandemic, the stadium had only 16,000 in attendance, not the 76,000 capacity for Arrowhead Stadium. All were wearing a mask except when eating or drinking. There were signs of protest among those in attendance, but also both end zones were painted with messages of, "End racism," and "It takes all of us."
Before the game, the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was played which some have called the black national anthem. The Chiefs stood arm-in- arm on the field. The Texans were not on the field for that or the national anthem. Alex Okafor took a knee for the national anthem which was sung by the R&B duo Chloe x Halle who wore t-shirts of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. After the Texans took the field, both teams joined hands for a moment of silence dedicated to ongoing fight for equality in our country. Several fans were heard booing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: On the back of many helmets were messages that the NFL had approved including, "Stop hate," "It takes all of us," "End racism," and "Black lives matter." All this social change is not enough for some. Already the Miami Dolphins have said they'll not be on the field for either anthem, criticizing in a poem what the players call "fluff and empty gestures" by the NFL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELANDON ROBERTS, LINEBACKER, MIAMI DOLPHINS: So if my dad was a soldier, but the cops killed my brother, do I stand for one anthem and then kneel for the other?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This attempt to unify only creates more divide.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we'll skip this song and dance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as a team, we'll stay inside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough. No more fluff and empty gestures.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For centuries, we've been trying to make you aware. Either you're in denial or just simply don't really care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a black/white thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or a left/right thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's clean the whole bird.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And stop arguing about which wing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So it seems clear that tomorrow there'll be more to see besides Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Bucks uniform. It remains to be seen how all of this social change being mixed with football will be received by NFL fans across the country. When the Dallas Cowboys announced it was OK for the team's players to protest the anthem, we heard from one fan whose father once owned a pro-football franchise in a competitive league, quote, "Football is officially dead," wrote Eric Trump, "So much for America's sport. Goodbye, NFL. I'm gone."
Perhaps he wasn't the only one abandoning ship. Compared to the 2019 season opener, while the digital ratings for the game were up, the TV viewership fell 12.3 percent and overall a drop of 11 percent, second worst in the past decade for Thursday night's game.
I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour and answer the survey question. Has football become too involved in social activism?
Joining me now, legendary ESPN host and commentator Stephen A. Smith. Stephen, how do you interpret the boos that we heard? In other words, what exactly were those fans booing?
STEPHEN A. SMITH, ESPN HOST: Well, I think that it's been politicized to some degree, obviously years ago when the president hijacked the narrative by turning a protest about racial oppression and racial inequality and police brutality into a political issue by making it -- by bringing in patriotism into the equation. Obviously there's a lot of people that have adopted that belief and they've never shredded it off their shoulders.
They've never shrugged it off their shoulders and that's really what this comes down to regardless of the fact that J.J. Watt even pointed out there was nothing that was divisive about what we did. We tried to be all-inclusive. We tried to be about the NFL, but we also tried to be as human beings, recognizing what ails us in our society, particularly in this day and age. Still you had people booing.
It was unfortunate that they elected to do that, but nevertheless it was not surprising because it's something that's been going on for the last four years. It's supposed to be about one message, but other people interpreted about being something entirely different and that's just the belief that they're going to hold on to and the fact that we're approaching an election year or we are in an election year, I certainly don't -- I don't believe helps that particular cause in any way. This is what it's about. There are people that are going to believe what they believe regardless of what truth they're told.
SMERCONISH: Benjamin Watson from the Pats tweeted in respond to the mindset of, hey, shut up and play. I'm going to put up on the screen and read aloud for everybody exactly what he said. "Don't kneel. Don't lock arms. Don't love each other. Don't empathize with your brother. Don't care about your country. Don't speak up for the vulnerable. Don't seek justice or righteousness. Just play. Sad." I guess the question is this -- is all of this conversation good or bad for the business of the NFL?
SMITH: Well, in the moment -- at the moment in time, it's not good for the NFL because obviously ratings are going to suffer, obviously that means revenue is going to suffer and particularly considering that we're enduring a global pandemic as we speak, clearly you don't need additional issues that are going to -- going to compromise your bottom line, but that's a short-term view in my estimation, to answer you directly, Michael.
My belief is, over time, everybody just accepts the fact that there are folks that have different beliefs. It's not like the game is being intruded upon. Those 60 minutes of football, there's nothing that's going on, but football. The protests that have taken place, the things that have been done to bring attention to the strife that exists in this nation, those are things that are transpiring before kick-off actually arrives.
Yes, there will -- there are going to be people kneeling during the national anthem, there's going to be people standing, locking arms, but in the -- but in the end, they're going to be playing football and that football, whether it's 60 minutes or longer, is going to be unimpeded and as long as that's the case, ultimately people will get over it. I just think that it's a situation right now where, again, we're in an election year, there are people that are going to the polls, you have athletes encouraging people to go to the polls, I think it's clear who they want folks to vote for.
And as a result, there's going to be resistance to that from the other side and people are going to protest and they're going to bring attention to what they want to bring attention to so they can highlight the dichotomy that exists between the two sides, ultimately thinking that they're going to influence folks to see their way, at least enough folks where you don't -- you don't end up having a detrimental effect to your odds at the polls. I think that's what this is about ...
SMERCONISH: You ...
SMITH: ... to some degree and I think that's what we'll see transpiring over the next several weeks.
SMERCONISH: You used the word dichotomy and I think it's apt, but it's sad that football is now subject to the red state/blue state divide. Red state Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri, I'll put this up on the screen as well, responding to people who called those who booed "classless trash." He said, "The left showing their usual contempt for middle America. Missouri has the best fans in the country. Don't blame them for being tired of NFL/corporate woke politics jammed down their throats." What's the response to him?
SMITH: Well, my response to that is, again, you're not paying attention to the message that the NFL players themselves are trying to disseminate and articulate. They didn't go political in that regard. All they said is that we need to come together. We need to end racism. We need to engage in trying to promote equality. They were peaceful -- they were peaceful protests. They weren't rioting, they weren't looting, they weren't doing anything that was un-American and matter of fact, what they were doing was completely American.
And so when you see or hear a senator in the United States taking that position, clearly he's politicizing the situation, potentially to his advantage. That's what he wants to do because right now, again, when you're in an election year, you're highly concerned about anything that could potentially affect votes. You understand where it's coming from. It's just unfortunate that we're living in a day and time where everything is being politicized, but that's the reality of the situation and in my estimation, specifically during an election year.
If you have people who believe that anything could potentially influence folks, they're going to take one side or the other. It's just that simple. It's going to be a divide and that's the way it goes --
SMERCONISH: Stephen --
SMITH: -- but I think the NFL has the cachet to offset it, to overcome it because it's the number one sport in this nation right now, it's box office and when these games are being played, trust you me, eventually folks are going to sit in front of their television set and they're going to watch. Don't think for one second that the ratings are just affected because of these social justice issues. This pandemic has people depressed. It has them down. People are wondering about their livelihoods, they're wondering about their quality of life and they have different priorities on their mind right now.
You can try to blame the protest on the ratings. Trust you me, that's not the sole issue.
SMERCONISH: Stephen --
SMITH: The pandemic is the issue. People got a lot of things that they're worried about.
SMERCONISH: I have 10 seconds. Who wins the battle of the goats tomorrow?
SMITH: Oh, I'm going to go with the Saints because they're accustomed to playing with one another. Tom Brady and the Bucks will ultimately be successful, just not tomorrow.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Stephen.
SMITH: All right, man. Take care.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. From Twitter, we have this. Let's see it. "The free market will make the final decision. Let the players do what they want. Ratings were down substantially for Thursday night football." Jimmy, they were down. I pointed that out. I think they were probably down for a variety of reasons, not just this.
I think that Roger Goodell has the most difficult job of all because on one hand, he wants to, you know, manage the players and make sure they're happy and at the same time protect the business model and whether both can be done remains to be seen. Remember, I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com this hour. I think we know how Stephen A. will be voting. Has football become too involved in social activism?
Up ahead, in a now deleted tweet, Kirstie Alley called the Oscars' decision to expand diversity rules for Best Picture, quote, "A disgrace to artists everywhere. Control artists. control individual thought, Oscar Orwell." Was she right or does the Academy need to move in a more progressive direction?
Plus, the massive wildfires out west just won't go away. Half a million people in Oregon under evacuation orders. Can firefighters beat this on their own?
President Trump taking shots at his rival Joe Biden claiming he uses a teleprompter to get him through question-and-answer events. How Biden's team responded when questioned next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You'll have a choice between teleprompter and freelance. I hate to say it, the freelance is always a hell of a lot better, but ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Are some of the media taking it easy on Joe Biden? That's certainly what president Trump keeps saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I watched the interview with Sleepy Joe Biden and he didn't ask questions. You didn't ask questions like that. Read the questions you asked. They were like meant for a child. Those questions were meant for a child. Smiles on faces of reporters, not like you and you. There were smiles on the reporters. What do you think? Take a look at those questions that they ask him. They were not meant for a grown-up. They were meant for a child.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: He was referring to some of these questions that reporters have asked Biden in Delaware.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aren't there a lot of people out there who are supporting you or inclined to not vote for the president who would say why isn't Joe Biden angrier about all of this?
ED O'KEEFE, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: You raised $364.5 million, your campaign and the DNC last month. Record for a monthly haul apparently. How are you going to spend it?
MIKE MEMOLI, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: How far are you willing to push the envelope of what's safe in order to get your message out and to be among the voters, speak to them directly?
EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: When you hear these remarks, suckers, losers, recoiling from amputees, what does it tell you about President Trump's soul and the life he leads?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Also, earlier this month, the Trump campaign pounced on this video of Biden appearing to queue up answers on a teleprompter screen after a supporter asked him about labor rights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REBECCA VEDRINE: What will your administration do to help them give them that chance? Thank you.
JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Move it up here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Here, then, was the reaction from Biden's national press secretary when asked about Biden's use of teleprompters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST, SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRET BAIER: Has Joe Biden ever used a teleprompter during local interviews or to answer Q&A with supporters?
TJ DUCKLO, JOE BIDEN'S NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Bret, we are not going to engage -- this is -- this is straight from the Trump campaign talking point and ...
BAIER: Well, yes. They're using it.
DUCKLO: The strategy ...
BAIER: Well, you have an answer (ph). Yes or no?
DUCKLO: Bret, they talk about it every day because they don't have a coherent argument for why Donald Trump deserves re-election, deserves four more years. We know that he lied to the American people, we know that he has not shown leadership during this crisis and they are desperate to throw anything they can against the wall to try to distract from that fact.
BAIER: I understand, but you can't answer the question.
DUCKLO: Bret, I am not going to allow ...
DUCKLO: ... the Trump campaign to funnel their questions through "Fox News" and get me to respond to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: "The Dispatch" editor-in-chief Jonah Doldberg responded to that interview this way, quote, "Just watched Bret Baier's Ducklo grilling. Seems like a textbook example of the sloppiness that mainstream media kid glove treatment fosters. I understand most of the mainstream media wants Biden to win, but you don't help when you softball so much that factual questions are flummoxing."
Joining me now is Edward-Isaac Dovere. He's a staff writer for "The Atlantic," host of "The Ticket Podcast." He asked Joe Biden one of the questions that you just heard in the press conference in Delaware. Isaac, thanks so much for being here. What did you ask the vice president and why? EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, the context for that question was a report that ran in "The Atlantic" the night before that press conference, which is this report that the president repeatedly referred to dead American soldiers as suckers and losers, that he had not wanted to have events with amputees. He said why does anyone want to see that? It's written by my colleague Jeff Goldberg and that has obviously been a very important part of the news of the last week and Biden had just, at the beginning of that event, responded to it.
But it should be said he has framed this election from the very beginning as a battle for the soul of the nation. He had just that morning done -- his campaign had done a press call with reporters that Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father was on, and Khan had questioned Trump's soul and the life that he led and so I was asking Biden, within that frame, what does he think of the soul of the president, what does he think of the life he's led given that his surrogate was talking about it that way, given that he has always talked about it that way.
I would say that our job as political journalists often is to draw politicians out, hear what they have to say, hear what they have to think about these things. That's especially true with people who are running for president, it would seem, because so much of the job is how they are filtering through what's going on.
SMERCONISH: Is it fair to do a split screen and say, well, here's the way in which President Trump is being questioned, here's the way in which Vice President Biden is being questioned by the media?
DOVERE: Sure. It's fair and I think it's telling in a lot of ways. First of all, there's been a lot of focus just in the last couple of questions that Joe Biden has gotten. I, myself, have literally had him yell at me, jab his finger at me at other press conferences that he's done. That's our job as journalists not to be their friend or their enemy, but to push them on the facts and get them to talk about where they stand on things.
I do think that when you see the contrast to some of the questions that President Trump has gotten lately, they have a lot to do with what President Trump has been saying and doing. We are over 20,000 in "The Washington Post"'s count of untrue things that President Trump has said over his presidency. Just in the past week, we have President Trump saying that he didn't say things that he just said, saying things that he didn't say things that are on tape.
As reporters, our job is to pursue the facts and pursue the truth of things. We have the president standing in opposition to facts that are in front of us often and certainly in the last ...
SMERCONISH: Well, can I -- can I interrupt and say I think -- I think you're making reference -- and I've got the video of Jon Karl by way of illustration. Let me remind everybody. Catherine, can we play that video and then I'll ask Isaac a question? Roll it if you've got it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now?
TRUMP: That's a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm, we can't be panicked and your question, the way you phrased that is such a disgrace. It's a disgrace to "ABC" television network, it's a disgrace to your employer and that's the answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Isaac, Isaac, to the president's thinking, you know, why doesn't Isaac Dovere or anyone who's in the press corps in Delaware ever treat Joe Biden that way? You would say what?
DOVERE: I would say that there is no question that Joe Biden has not been fully transparent sometimes, that's he spun, that he's twisted the facts a little bit, but we have not seen anything out of Joe Biden over the course of this campaign, over the course of his time as vice president that is as directly in opposition to the facts as we have regularly seen out of President Trump.
There was another incident on Monday. On Labor Day, President Trump had a press conference in which he said to a reporter that she was misquoting him by saying that he was promising there'd be a vaccine before the election and then in the sentence basically right before and the sentence basically right after teased that he thought that there would be a vaccine right before the election.
So that's what we're dealing with as reporters here and that's not to say that Joe Biden shouldn't get tough questions. I will tell you he's been taking questions basically once a month. I don't think any of my colleagues, myself included, feels like that is a frequency that is satisfactory, but that doesn't mean that when he has been speaking he has been speaking in as much opposition to facts and verified, truthful things as we see out of President Trump regularly.
SMERCONISH: Final question. I mean, the allegation really is that there's some Stockholm syndrome stuff going on here and that, for whatever reason, the corps that's with him are taking a dive, I guess, to stay ingratiated because he doesn't take that many questions and you want to make sure that when he does, you're on the list. Take 30 seconds and respond to that.
DOVERE: I will tell you that I have never found that that's the best way to get a politician to speak. There are reporters, obviously, who have their own political beliefs and sometimes can get into that and have that influence at work. I don't think that that happens with nearly any of the Trump press corps or the Biden press corps. I think that what we are doing is trying to pursue the facts of where things are and hold the politicians accountable and get them to speak so that Americans and voters can understand what's going on and make their choice in November. [09:25:03]
SMERCONISH: Isaac, thanks so much for your willingness to come on and talk about this. I really appreciate it.
DOVERE: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via Twitter and Facebook. I think this comes from Twitter. What do we have? "Trump's accusation of Biden using prompter is just a deflect from teleprompter Trump always looking like a hostage video of a third grader talking about his pet turtle at a show-and-tell." I don't think, in any of the exchanges of the type that I was just discussing with Isaac, there's any evidence that Joe Biden relies on a teleprompter and I don't believe any of that. Just wanted to sort of set the stage for the criticisms that Trump has been making.
I think Joe Biden should take more questions, by the way including from me, but there is a night and day difference between the media questioning of Biden versus the media questioning of Trump and I think that Isaac just gave you a reporter's explanation as to why that's the case.
I want to remind you, go to my website this hour, go to Smerconish.com and answer this question. Talked about it with Stephen A. in the first part of the program. Has football become too involved in social activism? Be really eager to see the result of that at the end of the hour.
Still to come, it looks like something out of a scene from a doomsday movie. Sadly, it's San Francisco in 2020. As western wildfires burn at unprecedented rates, I'll ask a fire scientist if firefighters can get it done alone?
SMERCONISH: The beautiful American west is burning. At least 26 people haven't made it out of the wildfires alive. Dozens more are missing. Entire cities have gone up in flames. And thousands have been forced to abandon their homes.
In Oregon alone, about 500,000 people are under evacuation orders, that's more than 10 percent of the state's population. That number is expected to grow. The scale of the fires burning right now unprecedented.
We haven't even reached the most active part of the region's fire season. And yet, nearly 5 million acres have burned. That's the size of New Jersey. Three million of those acres have burned in California alone, with five of the 10 largest fires in state history still burning all at once.
Huge swaths of Washington, also on fire, while Portland and Seattle now have the worst air quality in the world. And the scenes are apocalyptic. Here's how it looked in San Francisco as the city was blanketed in smoke so thick it blocked the sun. Can firefighters alone ever get ahead of the curve?
Joining me now is Jennifer Balch, fire scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Dr. Balch, can conventional firefighting alone, get ahead of the curve, win this battle in the long term?
JENNIFER BALCH, FIRE SCIENTIST/EARTH LAB DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER: The simple answer is no. We're asking way too much of our firefights. There were 28,000 firefighters right now fighting over a hundred blazes across the western U.S. and there's a reason why we're never going to get ahead of this.
There are three ingredients needed for fire. You need a warm climate. You need fuels and you need ignitions. And we're essentially changing all three of those. We, people, are changing all three. And we've put tens of millions of homes in harm's way. We've essentially built a nightmare into flammable landscapes, made more vulnerable because of climate change.
SMERCONISH: I watched one of your lectures online, and I learned a great deal including the fact that in the late 19th century, portions of the eastern United States were burning. And you see some parallels. Can you explain?
BALCH: Yes. We had essentially as the frontier was moving westward, the eastern U.S. was on fire, because we were clearing trees. We were leaving slash. And we were essentially fuelling the ironworks industry leaving huge landscapes open and vulnerable to fire. And there were huge blazes in the eastern U.S. which is completely counterintuitive to what we have today.
Now, what we have today in comparison is just an extension of our story with fire in that we completely convert landscapes. We bisect fuels. We put in roads. We farm. We introduce invasive species. There's lots of ways that we change the landscape. And today what we're dealing with is that we've essentially built homes in the line of fire.
Over the last 24 hours, there were 1 million homes that were within wildfire perimeters. There were another 59 million that were a kilometer, up to a kilometer away. So that's the fire problem that we have now is that way too many homes are literally in beautiful but also really flammable landscapes.
SMERCONISH: And I take it that what has exponentially grown the problem, in comparison to what transpired at the end of the 19th century is that then there wasn't the factor of climate change that we're confronted with today.
BALCH: Yes, what we're seeing today, part of the story here is climate change. This is climate change affecting us now not in 2100.
Fires are very responsive to warming. It takes just a little bit of warming to lead to a lot more burning. And over the last three or four decades, this is consistent with what we're seeing as a trend. A trend in increasing burning.
Across the west, human caused warming has dried out our fuels and effectively doubled the number of western forests that have burned since 1984. So, this is consistent with what the fire science community and the firefighting community have seen in our understanding.
It just is getting tiresome. I feel like I'm a broken record saying this over and over again, but we have a serious fire problem that's made worse by climate change and the number of homes that are in harm's way. And we have to do something about this.
And frankly, we can do something about it. That's the hopeful bit about fire is that it's not like other hazards. It's not like hurricanes or floods necessarily. We actually can do quite a lot to change the shape of fire.
And the other piece of this story is ignitions. Humans start the vast majority of our wildfires. Across the U.S., 84 percent of our fires are actually started by people.
The single day with the most number of human-started fires is July 4th. Fireworks, camp fires, celebrations. We spark a lot of fires.
So, we're now moving out of the lightning season and into the human ignition season. And, you know, the big question I have is can we do something right now? Can we think about how our daily activities, how driving off the side of the road, how camp fire, how other activities are actually going to change and reduce -- can we reduce those ignitions? One less spark.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Balch, thank you so much. I appreciate your expertise.
BALCH: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Up ahead, all 20 Oscar-nominated actors in both 2015 and 2016 were white, sparking the #OscarsSoWhite. Is the answer diversity standards?
And I want to remind you to answer this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Has football become too involved in social activism?
SMERCONISH: If you're a studio behind a big movie and you want to win best picture starting in 2024, you will not be considered unless you meet new rules or representation and inclusion either on screen or behind the scenes.
In both 2015 and 2016, all 20 acting nominations went to white actors inspiring the #OscarsSoWhite. So this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a set of standards that are -- quote -- "designed to encourage equitable representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience."
To be eligible as best picture for the 96th Oscars that will be awarded in 2025 for movies made in 2024 a film must meet two out of four on-scene and off-screen categories. In interest of brevity, let's just take a look at the on-screen category since that will be most visible to movie-goers.
To meet the requirement, for example, at least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors must be from one of these underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African-American, Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native, Middle Eastern/North African, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander or other underrepresented race or ethnicity. Or you can meet other requirements regarding ensemble cast and story line which also include categories for gender and sexual orient and those with disabilities.
So, how is this going to work? Will it have the desired effect or might it hamstring creativity?
Joining me now is Gabriel Rossman, associate professor of sociology at UCLA who wrote this piece in "National Review," "The New Oscars Diversity Rules Will Have Little Impact." Professor Rossman, thanks so much for being here. Could "The Irishman" win best picture under this new framework?
GABRIEL ROSSMAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, UCLA: Well, it probably won't because it wasn't that good. But in theory, it certainly could. Because while you gave attention to the on-screen rules, and that's what has gotten the most attention, under Standard A, which is the on-screen rule, "The Irishman" certainly couldn't, because all the major characters and the plot theme and the actors are white -- white men specifically.
But there's three other standards. And actually, the rules are written to be pretty easy to fulfill. Such that the studio can fulfill those other three standards and qualify even for a film that's all about white, able-bodied straight men. So you have a Standard B which basically says you have to have a certain amount of diversity in the major behind the scenes, creative people, which includes roles that are routinely filled by people who qualify for the categories. For instance hairstylists and costume designers.
Actually -- especially costume designers on major movies are usually women. And so that still counts even though it's already routinely filled. And so it's fairly easy for studios to fill Category B just by having -- I believe it's three people who meet these categories out of a total of something like a dozen major creative categories behind the scenes.
What you'll probably see is you'll see the major studios all institute affirmative action programs for internships for production people which is basically Standard C. And once you do that for the studio as a whole you've already met one standard for your whole studio. So, a movie like "The Irishman" can pretty easily meet it even though on- screen it doesn't.
SMERCONISH: Right. I read your piece for "National Review" and encourage that others do likewise. And I understand that you think it's overblown in terms of the reaction.
Do you think if those standards were in place today -- in other words, I was struck by the fact that they're waiting until 2025, 2026, seemingly if they weren't going to have that much of an impact, they could implement them next year and not wait that long.
ROSSMAN: The problem with instituting them next year is that there's a production lag. Movies are green lit about two years before they reach theaters. And so, in effect, instituting the standard today would just reward the movies that were already green lit. It wouldn't actually incentivize the production of new movies. And, likewise, you can't create an internship program overnight.
I mean, you can do it pretty fast. But if you're viewing this as a set of incentives for the studios and in practice, I think, it's going to be mostly incentive to create internship programs rather than an incentive to green light different movies then it makes sense to do it phased in over time.
SMERCONISH: Does this then move to the Grammys? Does this then move to the Tonys? Does it move to the Emmys? And does it move into other areas that are not just creatively driven?
ROSSMAN: Well, it's funny you mentioned the Grammys, because the thing that I immediately thought of was the Canadian cultural content regulations that they have up north. Where in order to get played on Canadian radio your pop song has to be sufficiently Canadian. I believe it's something like half or two-thirds of all of the songs that get played on Canadian radio have to be considered Canadian cultural content.
And if I remember it correctly, it's the singer, the songwriter and the producer. Two of the three have to be Canadians. And this, of course, has created a big boom in Canadian producers.
So it's the similar thing, where you think it's going to be very visible, kind of on-screen ways and it's going to work also for behind the screens more. And I don't see any reason why it couldn't work for those -- the only reason it's expected not to work for the Grammys is the Grammys has less of an effect on the music market than the Oscars do on the film market. But, in theory, you could see all sorts of trade associations or awards institute similar requirements.
SMERCONISH: Kirstie Alley deleted a tweet. This is a disgrace to artists everywhere. Can you imagine telling Picasso what had to be in his f'ing paintings? You people have lost your minds. Control artists, control individual thought. Oscar Orwell.
Your response? ROSSMAN: My hunch would be that she was paying attention mostly to Standard A. You know, it would severely limit what kind of stories filmmakers could make if Standard A was the only way to meet the standards. And, it would mean, for instance, that you couldn't make "Saving Private Ryan" and have it be eligible for the Oscars. You can't make many biopics like the movies about Churchill or, you know, that sort of thing.
But if you wanted to make a biopic about Lincoln, you would have to emphasize his relationship with Frederick Douglass, but you couldn't emphasize other aspects of Lincoln's story. So, it really would be severely artistically limiting if Standard A was the only way to meet the standard. And I would probably sympathize with her on that. But the fact --
SMERCONISH: I can hear some people at home -- I can hear some people at home -- I can hear some people at home listening to this and saying, yes, that makes true. Wait a minute, what about "Hamilton," right?
I have to run but thank you very much. I appreciate you being here.
ROSSMAN: Of course, of course.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, professor.
ROSSMAN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And the final result of the survey question, have you voted yet at Smerconish.com?
Has the NFL become too involved in social activism?
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this hour at Smerconish.com.
Has the NFL become too involved in social activism?
I have no idea how this one's going to go. Let's see the result. Seventy-one percent say no agreeing with what they heard from Stephen A. in the initial portion of the program. And more than 20,000 votes have been cast.
Interestingly, to listen to the boos in Kansas City is to hear 16 or 17,000 fans, a portion of whom, didn't like what they were seeing on field in terms of the social activism. To hear the Miami Dolphins express it through their poem, hey, this is just fluff and window dressing and the league hasn't gone far enough. We'll see what tomorrow brings. What do we have in terms of social media reaction?
Sports are not for social activism. Period.
Roy, it sounds to me like if you were in Kansas City you would have been one of those booing. You just saw the survey results. That's a minority view, at least among those who cast a ballot during the course of this hour.
What else has come in?
Do you question the soft questions from Fox News and OANN?
Yes, I do. I don't question them from Chris Wallace, because I think that Chris Wallace doesn't ask soft questions. And we saw that with President Trump and his exchange, which is why I think The Commission on Presidential Debates selected Chris Wallace. But are the questions from Fox in primetime that you get in the nightly interviews with the president soft? Well, of course, they are.
What else? Come on.
I don't care if it's a teleprompter or index cards as long as Biden is speaking the truth.
Hey, I appreciated Isaac Dovere coming on the program as one who has asked a so-called softball question according to the president to try and set the stage and explain some of the dynamics that are going on in that room. And he explained why he asked the question that he asked of Joe Biden.
Quickly, one more.
How does a Philly guy wear a tie with a cowgirl colors on NFL opening weekend?
Best comment that I -- go Eagles. I'm not a cowboy guy in the game against the Rams on Sunday night.
All right. That does it for me. Have a nice weekend. I will see you here next week.
Big news, coming up "THE ABCs OF BACK TO SCHOOL," a CNN/Sesame Street town hall for families hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Erica Hill, Big Bird and the entire Sesame Street crew.