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Independence in the air After Democrat Joe Manchin Blocks COVID Relief Bill; The Patchwork Approach to Vaccine Distribution; Arizona County Opens Vaccinations to all Residents; Royal Rift on Display Ahead of Meghan & Harry's First Interview; Do History And Civics Curriculums Need A Revamp; What's Offensive In The Discontinued Dr. Seuss Books. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired March 06, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): "STANLEY TUCCI: SEARCHING FOR ITALY" tomorrow at 9:00 on CNN.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: The new John McCain? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin brought the Senate to a standstill last night, stalling President Joe Biden's top agenda item, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, but ultimately, Democratic leaders secured Manchin's support on a last-minute deal to clear the way for the legislation after Biden himself got involved.
That's because Manchin agreed to a compromise on unemployment benefits that satisfied some of the lawmakers on both sides. I say good for Joe Manchin. To see such a raw exercise of independent power is so rare and refreshing. Imagine how different Washington would be if more members of Congress would be willing to similarly go against their party based on policy. We could take back power from the fringes.
Manchin is a throwback to the 1960s when, according to "Congressional Quarterly," a typical member of Congress voted with his or her party only 60 percent of the time. Typical was a Texas congressman who voted with the Johnson administration as much as he voted with the Nixon administration that followed. He was a Republican. His name was George H.W. Bush.
But by 2010, the typical member of Congress voted with his or her party 89 percent of the time. Independent thinking was gone. Most legislative votes, they become a rote exercise. Members just vote with colleagues. Maybe change is afoot. In the recent Trump impeachment votes, 10 Republican members of Congress voted against Donald Trump, seven Republican senators did likewise. Maybe there's an independent vibe in the air.
After all, 41 percent of Americans tell Gallup that they identify as Independents, while only 26 percent say R, 32 percent say D. One can only hope. And there's another thing that I'm hoping to get soon. That's a coronavirus vaccine, but in so many parts of the country, getting a vaccine can be a complicated, confusing ordeal.
The CDC guidelines recommend that the most vulnerable receive the vaccine first, but that's left open to interpretation or, as "The New York Times" put it recently, "The change in presidents has brought nearly diametrical federal responses to the pandemic, but the country is facing a patchwork of rules, state to state and city to city, similar to what was seen when the virus arrived a year ago and during the last months of the Trump administration."
Here's a look at that patchwork quilt itself. In most states, 15 percent or more of the population is partially vaccinated. Only a few have surpassed 20 percent. The good news is if we keep up the current pace, a CNN analysis shows the U.S. could reach herd immunity by late summer through vaccination alone.
In the meantime, vaccine eligibility is all across the board depending on where you live. Healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities have been eligible for vaccination in every state for weeks. Each state has also started widely vaccinating older adults, though the minimum age varies across the country.
For example, West Virginia has now lowered vaccine eligibility to age 50. The state's Republican governor, Jim Justice, broke from the federal standardized pharmacy program and federal guidance on eligibility and managed, in the process, to administer vaccines at a faster rate than the majority of states in the first month of the roll-out.
In Connecticut and Maine, the most vulnerable and educators have been prioritized, but outside of that, vaccines are now available solely by age. Those states cite fairness and simplicity. Critics say that it unfairly excludes essential workers and people with serious medical conditions.
Then there's Florida where tens of thousands of eligible seniors on vaccine wait lists had to wait even longer. About 6,000 people jumped ahead of those seniors after the state helped set up invitation-only vaccine drives in at least two wealthy communities in Florida. A spokesperson for Republican Governor Ron DeSantis previously told CNN, "The insinuation that politics play into vaccine distribution in Florida is baseless and ridiculous."
Beyond age requirements, the occupation-based vaccination approach is where things really start to get wonky. Every state except Montana is vaccinating some form of essential worker, but the lists of which professions are eligible widely differ by state. In Georgia and 11 other states, teachers still aren't eligible. Worth noting, those educators will be getting shots after several great apes at the San Diego Zoo.
They became the first non-humans to receive an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. The zoo said the vaccine that the apes received was intended strictly for non-human use and eligibility for humans or otherwise is just one part of the equation. Access is key. Across nearly all states that have released demographic data, black and Hispanic residents are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white people, leading to concerns about inequities in vaccine access all across country.
You could be eligible for a vaccine but live in an area where the supply is low. A recent analysis by the Rural Policy Research Institute found that 111 rural counties, mostly located between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, have no pharmacy that can give the vaccines. That could leave thousands of Americans struggling to find vaccination.
Oddly, it's the opposite problem here in Philly. A "Philadelphia Inquirer" analysis of recent State Department of Health data shows that four large suburban Philadelphia counties have received many fewer doses of vaccine by population than counties much smaller. Perhaps you're one of those people whose woken up at 5:00 A.M. and spent hours on the internet waiting for a coveted slot to open up.
But in all the chaos, there's one pocket of the country where getting a vaccine is more like the infamous Oprah free car giveaway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, TV SHOW HOST: You get a car. You get a car. You get a car. You get a car. Everybody gets a car.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: You can get a vaccine if you're a Gila County, Arizona resident over the age of 18. You can walk up to a clinic without an appointment and get your COVID-19 vaccine. Pretty simple. And no, they're not bypassing the CDC recommendation of vaccinating the most vulnerable first. They've already checked that box and then became one of the first places in the country to open up vaccines to the general population. So what's their secret?
Joining me now to discuss is Mayor Al Gameros of Globe, Arizona, a town in Gila County. Mayor, what can the rest of the country learn from what you've been doing?
MAYOR AL GAMEROS (D-AZ), GLOBE: Well, I think it all started with creating partnerships and cooperation, you know, those relationships from the very beginning. We were the one -- one of the last counties to get a positive case and shut down in late March of 2020. So from there, I have to credit our health department for bringing together the stakeholders, the hospital, the mines in our area, the cities, the schools, the doctor's office and hospitals, brought them together and communicated throughout the process.
So once we started getting our allocation in our county, we needed to create multiple areas to be able to get those vaccinations. So one of the big advantages we had is our local hospital, Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center, opened up their facility and dedicated an area, dedicated the resources and the manpower to do daily vaccinations and then we had our doctor's office that allowed their patients to go into their offices and do a vaccination, our health department did it.
And we had two large events where we had 2,000 vaccinations each weekend in our area. Although, you know, our county's only 52,000, so it's not as complex as these other larger counties, that really helped to have multiple places to do it.
The one problem we ran into and it was a flaw and frustration was for our elderly generations as they started the process. You still had to call into the state website in order to get an appointment and there was frustration with talking to recordings, to being put on hold, not getting call backs.
So the way that was taken care of was that our local health department opened up their EOC, the Emergency Operation Center, and created a call center where you could call directly locally, talk to a human being, book your appointment and get it done. Our local hospital also ...
SMERCONISH: It makes sense -- it makes sense because so many older Americans struggle with internet access and use capability. Mayor, I should make clear before folks get in their cars or fly to Arizona, this is for locals only. It's not as if someone from outside the area can come and get vaccinated, but just how easy is it? Here we are at the beginning of a Saturday. If someone is a resident in your community who has not yet been vaccinated, do they even need an appointment to go get vaccinated today?
GAMEROS: Next week, I don't think they will need to, although a lot of people have booked their appointments and, again, they just call locally and they're able to go in and get their vaccination. The only key to -- the only restriction is that they have to be Gila County residents. We still continue to get ...
GAMEROS: ... residents from outside our county to try and get appointments and that's not possible right now.
SMERCONISH: Obviously what we want to do is prioritize folks who are on the front lines of combating COVID and take care of the elderly at the same time.
What's your personal opinion beyond that? Have we reached a point where everyone should be eligible?
GAMEROS: Well, again, I can only speak for our community. It's a little more complex, like I said, when populations are larger in other counties and how many facilities, how much -- how much availability? Do you have people able to do the vaccination? So that's where we're at. We're a smaller community, we had multiple places to get vaccinated and we made it easier to get an appointment by doing local calling instead of having to go to the state website. That was huge for us. SMERCONISH: A final -- a final question. How are you combating the issue of people who are -- they can get it now, they can get it in Gila County, but nevertheless, for whatever reason, they're reluctant to do so? Are you combating that mindset?
GAMEROS: You know, we're seeing that in our county too, you know, and I think it's going with the younger generation still resisting to do it. We're still only, in estimates, call it about 35 to 43 percent vaccinated in our county. We're hoping to reach -- maybe get to the 60 percentile would be great. We're still going to have those people with resistance, and I don't know how we're going to change the mindset on that.
SMERCONISH: Mayor, congratulations and thank you for being here.
GAMEROS: Thank you very much, Michael, for having me.
SMERCONISH: Up ahead, almost 30 years after his death, beloved children's author Dr. Seuss at the center of a culture war over what some find to be offensive caricatures in six of his books. How bad are they? I intend to show you and I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question. Should Dr. Seuss books be banned?
Plus, the PR war between Harry and Meghan and the Royal family goes into overdrive tomorrow when Oprah Winfrey's two-hour interview airs. Who better to discuss this with than Princess Diana's private secretary and chief of staff, portrayed in these scenes from season four of "The Crown" on Netflix? The real Patrick Jephson is here.
SMERCONISH: A war of words is well underway between the Royal family and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and we'll finally get a glimpse of how Meghan and Prince Harry really feel. "CBS" airing Oprah Winfrey's wide-ranging interview with the couple on Sunday, their first interview together since stepping back as working members of the Royal family last year and officially confirming their departure late last month.
On Tuesday, "The Times of London" published a story citing sources who claim a complaint was filed in 2018 alleging Meghan bullied staff members. According to "The Times of London," quote, "Staff would on occasion be reduced to tears; one aide, anticipating a confrontation with Meghan, told a colleague, 'I can't stop shaking.' Another aide claimed it felt 'more like emotional cruelty and manipulation,' which I guess could also be called bullying."
CNN has been unable to corroborate these claims. A spokesperson for the Sussexes dismissed "The Times" report on Tuesday as, quote, "A calculated smear campaign," but the Royals didn't necessarily come to the Duchess' defense. In a rare statement released Wednesday, Buckingham Palace expressed concern about the allegations, saying they're looking into the claims and they do not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace. Then came this promo clip where Meghan did not hold back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us and if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there's a lot that's been lost already.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Buckingham Palace had no comment when asked about that promo clip. Winfrey teased that no topics were off the table, including how this Royal hostility reminds Prince Harry of how his mother, the late Princess Diana of Wales, was treated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE HARRY, DUKE SUSSEX: For me, I'm just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side because I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself. My biggest concern was history repeating itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Princess Diana was largely shunned by the Royal family following her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996. She of course died tragically in a car accident a year later. All of this tension is planning out against a backdrop of an aging queen and ailing 99-year- old Prince Phillip who has been hospitalized since mid-February. He was transferred back to a private hospital in London on Friday morning following a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition.
On Thursday, another hospital, the Palace confirmed, adding, "The Duke is expected to remain in the hospital for continuing treatment for a number of days and Meghan and Harry are of course expecting baby number two.
So much to unpack. Joining me now, the perfect person to have a discussion with, Patrick Jephson who served as Princess Diana's private secretary and chief of staff. He's also the author of the book, "The Meghan Factor." Patrick, thank you so much for coming back. The parallels between this story and that of Princess Diana, which you know so well, seem obvious. What strikes you as similar? What strikes you as dissimilar?
PATRICK JEPHSON, PRINCESS DIANA'S PRIVATE SECRETARY AND CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, it's interesting, Michael, looking at that clip from "The Crown." It reminds me that 30 years ago, we were at a comparable situation where rifts were opening up within the Royal family and it was starting to escalate and there were a lot of unhappy people involved then. I'm quite sure there are a lot of unhappy people involved now.
And first and foremost, we should remember this is a family rift. It has taken on a lot of the trappings of a big media PR story, but at the heart of this are real people really hurting and I hope that somewhere in the midst of the current back and forth, somebody is putting down the seeds for eventual reconciliation which has to come.
SMERCONISH: Well, that would seem to fall to the father, wouldn't it? I mean, I'm curious from the sidelines as to what might be the reaction and response from Prince Charles in terms of putting the brothers together if, in fact, there's now a split between them.
JEPHSON: Well, certainly I think the responsibility for starting to heal a lot of this damage and to put a stop to the escalation does lie with senior Palace management and Harry and William's father involved with the Diana situation has also a lot of experience and I suppose examples from his own history of how these things can be made worse and how they can be made better.
And I hope that there will be intervention from all well-intentioned people to help Harry and Meghan settle in their new lives and help heal the wounds that arose through the way they departed.
SMERCONISH: Patrick, does the Palace play political hardball? The timing of that "Times" story, investigation pertaining to the allegation of bullying hardly seems coincidental.
JEPHSON: Well, I suppose if you start to employ PR experts, they will do what their job is and this is the way in which, combined with social media, what is essentially a family squabble turns into something potentially much more damaging and it is a matter of judgment how both sides use the media.
It is also, I think, important to consider that, again, in the long term, this is a monarchy we're talking about and there will need to be lessons learned, I hope some sort of investigation, to establish how many factors went into creating this problem in the first place so that it can be avoided in future.
SMERCONISH: Do you think that the perception of this story, as it plays itself out, is different on opposite sides of the pond?
JEPHSON: Yes. There is a different perspective, I think, from the U.K. I mean, I'm an American now speaking from Washington, but it is notable, I think, that, you know, the attitude here is that Harry and Meghan have made a bid for freedom. They are settling into a new life in California with their growing family and good luck to them.
Interestingly, in the U.K., yes, there is a traditional conservative element who I think particularly regret the way in which Harry and Meghan have handled their communications with the Queen, but there is growing support for them, perhaps more among the young. A recent "YouGov" poll showed that 50 percent of those surveyed thought that Harry and Meghan had been unfairly treated by the British media. So, it's by no means clear cut. There is sympathy on both sides, and I think there is a recognition that there is a lot of blame to go around.
SMERCONISH: So the show will air in the United States tomorrow night, Sunday night, in time for the tabloids to be in the loop for Monday morning as to what aired before United Kingdom residents have their own opportunity to see it on Monday night and I guess my question is I'm wondering how much of the perception will be cemented in the mind of residents of Great Britain before they even have their own opportunity to watch the full interview.
JEPHSON: I think that we can credit the British media-consuming public with a lot more judgment than that. They are, after all, talking about a story that is familiar to them, this is a family that's familiar to them. It's, in a sense, national family business and they will have, I'm sure, an open mind when they listen to the Oprah interview.
Remembering, though, that the precedence for Royal interviews of this kind are not very encouraging. Both Prince Charles and Princess Diana and, more recently, Prince Andrew have tried to put their sides of the story on TV through these sorts of interviews and in all cases, it has backfired.
SMERCONISH: Patrick you were both private secretary and chief of staff to Princess Diana. You're well equipped to answer the question of what would she be thinking?
JEPHSON: Well, I think it's important to remember that Princess Diana, as we just saw in that little bit of clip from "The Crown," she was, in many senses, a pioneer of a compassionate style of royalty and the word compassion comes up over and over again with Harry and Meghan.
I think we'll be able to judge by results how they are able to execute their ambitious program of spreading compassion, but I would say that Princess Diana was a pioneer. She also had a very strong sense of duty towards the monarchy. After all, her role is very different from Meghan's. She was the mother of the next king. The future king and she was herself going to be the next queen. So, she was very heavily invested in the future health of the monarchy, Meghan perhaps less so.
SMERCONISH: Patrick Jephson, thank you so much. I really appreciate your expertise.
JEPHSON: You're very welcome.
SMERCONISH: Up ahead, America spends 1,000 times more per student on science and math than on history and civics. Why that needs to change if we're ever going to fix our hopelessly polarized country.
And huge outcry and a spike in used book sales when six works by Dr. Seuss, one of America's most beloved children's book authors, were withdrawn due to offensive imagery. What exactly were those illustrations? We're going to show you. And make sure you're going to my website at Smerconish.com this hour and answering this week's survey question. Should Dr. Seuss' books be banned? We'll discuss who was the real Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): What is your name, please?
BURTON BROWNE, PRESIDENT, THE GASLIGHT CLUB: My name is Ted Geisel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): What is your name, please?
DR. SEUSS, AMERICAN AUTHOR: My name is Ted Geisel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): What is your name, please?
TOM DUKES (ph), RESEARCH CHEMIST: My name is Ted Geisel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: After decades of division and polarization the democratic and civic fabric of our country is at a breaking point. So how do we move forward, learn from our mistakes and inspire the next generation to be better informed and engaged?
A "Wall Street Journal" op-ed penned by six U.S. Education secretaries titled "America Needs History and Civics Education to Promote Unity" argues that education may be a worthy place to start. That essay was drawing attention to the release of this report which offers extensive guidance and ambitious goals to improve and reimagine the teachings of history and civics.
Here to discuss further is one of the co-authors of that op-ed, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He's a managing partner at Emerson Collective and author of the book "How Schools Work."
Mr. Secretary, I should make clear it's not as if this report was whipped up in the last two months in response to January 6. This has been a two-year endeavor but made all the more relevant wouldn't you say by the recent attempted insurrection?
ARNE DUNCAN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION/MANAGING PARTNER, EMERSON COLLECTIVE: Yes, that's exactly right. And obviously no one could have predicted January 6 a couple years ago. But I think the fears of what all the disinformation and misinformation around the election and in the insurrection of January 6 makes what we're trying to say and what we're talking about, yes, that much more important and relevance today.
SMERCONISH: So, has all the emphasis on standardized tests related to STEM education come at the expense of history and civics?
DUNCAN: I think it is a little more complicated than that. I think because our history is messy and there's conflict and there's issues, I think sometimes we shy away from those conversations. And I want to, you know, help prepare young people for the diversity of our country, for the inherent conflicts and tensions in our democracy. That's the nature of a thriving and vibrant democracy.
And so I think it's that fear of addressing or, you know, having those tough conversations. And for me this is not about studying dates and names and fact and places, we can Google all of that, it's really equipping our young people, our future leaders with the skills to handle that complexity, to talk about it, to understand it. We want a reflective patriotism, not a blind patriotism.
SMERCONISH: I want to read a paragraph from the report that jumped out at me, the Educating for American Democracy Report and it said this, Mr. Secretary, "Central to the success of STEM has been the ability of experts in STEM fields to achieve national consensus on standards and needs. In the subjects of history and civics by contrast national polarization including about the nature of our past and the meaning of our institutions has created obstacles to investment."
Do you think we can ever reach consensus on what we should be teaching before we undertake that task?
DUNCAN: Well, I think this report was a huge step in the right direction. As you said, two years of work, 300 scholars from across the political spectrum and they did come together with some pretty good consensus. And shame on us if we don't. And I'll just speak personally, I thought our democracy could never be moved, could never be challenged. And the fragility of our democracy hit me over the head in a way that I never thought would be possible.
And so if we don't better equip our young people not just to be the protectors of democracy and the defenders of democracy but the creators of democracy. Every generation has to help create and strengthen our democracy. If we don't equip them because somehow, we're unable as adults to come together and find common ground then we -- then we do our democracy a great disservice. And what these scholars did is they took I think a huge step in the right direction.
SMERCONISH: Well, I applaud the work in this report. But as a father of four, I also say it's not solely the burden of educators. This ought to be beginning at home. That's the way that it was when I was raised.
DUNCAN: It absolutely should begin at home and every place else in the community, and just having our kids again participate in democracy.
But schools have a vital, vital role to play as well obviously and we don't want schools to abdicate that responsibility. And the real challenge for us in America is can we -- there are other democracies across the world, can we truly have a multiracial, multicultural -- multicultural democracy? Can we embrace the tremendous diversity in our nation and see that as a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness? That is the challenge, but that's the amazing opportunity we have here to show the world what's possible. SMERCONISH: The funding disparity is stunning from the report. "We collectively spend about 1,000 times more per student on science, technology, engineering and math education than we do on history and civics. Where civics education is taught, it is often hampered by a lack of consensus about what to teach and how." So, it's not only an issue on getting on the same page as to what should be taught, but we also need the funds available to do so.
DUNCAN: That's exactly right. And it is interesting to look at our history sort of post-cold war and post Sputnik. There is a huge emphasis on the STEM fiends and that should -- that should remain. For me there's no conflict here. It is not either/or, it is both/and. But if the cold war was a threat to our democracy and a threat to our country, absolutely. The recent events here have been I would argue a much greater threat to our country and to our democracy and we got to -- we got to respond with the kind of urgency and commitment and clarity that this moment demands.
SMERCONISH: I really appreciate your work, thank you for being here.
DUNCAN: Thanks so much for the opportunity. Have a good morning.
SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have, Catherine? From the world of Facebook. So glad you're addressing civility, the lack thereof, Michael.
Well, kind of, Ruth. Civility is a big part of this conversation, but it's civics that we're really discussing. It's the need to educate younger Americans about the process and engage them and disabuse them of the idea that the incivility around us is necessary. And has always been the case because it hasn't. It has escalated in the span of the last three decades as I've been paying close attention and often discuss here.
Still to come, when six Dr. Seuss titles were withdrawn this week, many on Fox News complained about cancel culture. As "The Washington Post" pointed out, they never seem to show the actual offensive drawings. Well, I'm going to share them with you and then have a conversation with a leading Dr. Seuss expert.
I want to remind you to make sure to answer this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Should Dr. Seuss books be banned?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would not eat them here or there. I would not eat them anywhere. I would not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: This week Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that six books by the legendary children's author and illustrator will no longer be published because they -- quote -- "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong." Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel died in 1991, hundreds of millions of his books have been sold worldwide including such classics as "The Cat in the Hat," "Green Eggs and Ham" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The now discontinued titles include "And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo."
Among the offending images, these two, from "If I Ran the Zoo" depicting caricatures of Asians and Africans. And this Asian caricature from the "Mulberry Street" title which in 1970s had already been cleaned up from the original yellow skin version.
Joining me now to discuss is Philip Nel, professor at Kansas State University where he's the director of the English department's program in children's literature. He has written several books about Dr. Seuss and children's books including "The Annotated Cat Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats" and "Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books." Dr. Nel, why are we having this conversation now as compared to years prior?
PHILIP NEL, PROFESSOR, KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY/AUTHOR, "WAS THE CAT IN THE HAT BLACK?": Well, a couple reasons. In reference to your last section, we need to tell the truth and this is an excellent time to tell the truth. If we don't tell the truth about race and racism in America, we're going to make the same mistakes again.
As for right now, I think the We Need Diverse Books Movement has accelerated focus on the need for diverse books, the need to challenge racism in books, that's a movement that is much older than the We Need Diverse Books Movement, but I think it has really brought that into focus in recent years. And I mean, I think also the intersection of We Need Diverse Books with Black Lives Matter has brought into focus the need to raise a new generation that is not as damaged by the follies of racism as the current generation is.
SMERCONISH: I referenced in the intro that he passed in 1991 and I showed the images from "Mulberry Street" where change had been made in the late 1970s with regard to pigmentation and the depiction of an Asian character. People can see it as I'm putting it back on the screen now. The version they are looking at now was the original version and maybe we'll flip to it and show the cleaned-up version. There it is. So, it is no longer a Chinaman, it's now a Chinese man would eats with sticks. And as I point out the skin coloration has changed.
Here is the question. Was he aware and was he repentant before he died as to the way in which he had drawn some of these images while living?
NEL: I would say yes and no to both of those questions.
He was aware and as you know there, he attempted to make a change which partially addressed the caricature. It is still a slant-eyed figure wearing one of those conical hats although he did cut off the pigtail and did change the skin pigmentation.
Race in Seuss is tricky because people would point out correctly that he wrote books like "Horton Hears a Who" which one reviewer at the time 1954 described as a "rhymed lesson in protection of minorities and their rights." And books like "The Sneetches" which opposes anti- Semitism. But, of course, can be (INAUDIBLE) anti-racist fable. But he also encodes racist images into his books during the same period of his career.
So, he is aware and he is not aware. He is repentant and also unaware that he needs to be repentant. Many people think of racism as either/or, but it's not. It's both/and. And I think that's -- that's what is confusing to a lot of people about Seuss and race is that he was aspiring to do anti-racist work, but at the same time, he was also recycling racist images in his work because he was not aware of the degree to which his own imagination was steeped in a very racist American culture.
SMERCONISH: Do you think that he was malicious? I mean, you've studied his work like no other. Do you think that the intent was one of malice or to accentuate the exotic?
NEL: I don't think that it was malicious. I do think that it was intended to accentuate the exotic. That was always a source of humor for him in his books. People who were ethically or nationally or culturally different was something that is a source of humor for him.
But intention and perception are not ways to judge racism. You can be racist without intending to do so. And although I don't think that he meant malice to place someone's ethnicity or nationality or race as a punch line, yes, it's not kind and is hard to bear if you are the punch line.
So, no, it's not malicious, but I think that's also important for people to realize that if race doesn't -- racism or behaving in ways that support racism don't have to come out of malice. There are perfectly nice people who inadvertently do racist things. And there are many things to admire about Seuss but also many things not to. And that's why we're having this conversation is you want to separate --
SMERCONISH: Right. It sounds like the record -- it sounds like the record is very mixed. A quick final question if I may. My survey question today asks whether Dr. Seuss' books should be banned. By the way, I should make clear, they have not been banned anywhere for distinction, although I'm still asking the question of what should happen in a big picture sense. What do you think should happen?
NEL: Well, I don't think they should be banned, and they haven't been banned as you say. As my friend Professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas points out, "Curation is not cancellation." And those are her words. And they are not.
What we should do instead is have the necessary uncomfortable conversations about race and racism. We should read uncomfortably especially if we're going to look at these six books. And, of course, we don't have to read these six books. There are many, many other better books to read as well.
SMERCONISH: Are other children's book's authors and/or illustrators nervous? This whole subject has made me think about how much I enjoyed when my mother would read to me the story of "The Five Chinese Brothers." I tried to find my copy and bring it in today and I couldn't. But I'm wondering maybe that couldn't meet the standards today.
NEL: No, it certainly wouldn't. And it is not the only one. There are many books, classic books that are still in print as well as more recent books that are still in print that we should re-evaluate. "Five Chinese Brothers" is one I grew up on too. "The Indian in the Cupboard" series, I'm not sure why those books are still published. "Skippy John Jones Series" I'm not sure why they're being published.
There's a lot of books that are still circulating and I hope Dr. Seuss Enterprises' decision to take responsibility for the culture they're putting into the world and the images they're putting into the world, I hope that decision inspires other publishers to take responsibility and act accordingly.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Nel, thank you. You're clearly the right person to address this.
NEL: Thanks for having me. Great to chat.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have? From the world of Facebook, I think.
Smerconish, I don't think anyone is trying to ban Dr. Seuss books or cancel the beloved American author/illustrator. But his estate choosing to discontinue publication for these books isn't cancel culture it's education and progress.
Seth, well said. I'll tell you what is cancel culture, I think, is eBay saying and we're not even going to allow you to sell these books while at the same time selling some books that are clearly hateful and racist.
Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final results of the survey question, should those books be banned?
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Smerconish.com. Should Dr. Seuss books be banned? Survey says -- a lot of voting. No. Ninety-one percent say no.
I should make clear again, they're not being banned. I'm just asking where this all leads, 22,989 votes. Thank you. What else came in, Catherine? You got the question all wrong. It should be, should advertisers pull their ads from right wing media i.e. Fox News for creating faux outrage over Dr. Seuss Enterprises making -- you know, what's interesting, Dishroomboys, is that as I was watching the story unfold this week, largely in the venue that you've identified, I kept wondering, where are the images? Like, show me the images. And then even going online where you would expect to find whatever the controversy is embedded so that you could take a look. I couldn't find it.
It took a little bit of digging on our part. But I think people need to at least look at what we're discussing to then render a decision.
What else came in? That is it. I'm out of time. I'll see you next week.