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Who Are The Smartest People On Twitter?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, Sheila Bridges stood out for many reasons in her chosen field of interior design. Her celebrity client list, being African-American, but then she began to stand out in a way she did not want - she started losing her hair. We'll talk about how that changed her life and her focus. She talks about that in her new memoir "The Bald Mermaid." And we'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

First, we want to take a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women commentators and journalists get a fresh cut on the week's news. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media, here with us in D.C. Joining us from New York are Danielle Belton, editor-at-large for Clutch magazine and Keli Goff, special correspondent for The Root. Ladies, welcome back to everybody. Thanks for joining us.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thanks for having us back.

DANIELLE BELTON: Thanks for having us.

KELI GOFF: Thanks.

MARTIN: We want to continue the conversation that we started earlier in the program about possible interventions in Syria in the wake of the allegations of the chemical weapons attacks there. Bridget, you write - Bridget Johnson, you write for a libertarian site - Rand Paul is kind of the - I don't know if you agree with me - kind of the standard bearer for libertarians among public officials at the moment, would you think that'd be a fair assessment?

JOHNSON: I mean, yeah it's probably a fair assessment.

MARTIN: Well, he's been a leading voice opposing the intervention right now and I just wanted to ask your thoughts about this.

JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, actually, I've told you before I'm an Independent and this is one of the issues where I go towards humanitarian intervention. I mean, I have to go back to the Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday and Senator Jim Risch from Idaho. You know, he kind of summed up the really disturbing undercurrent of this argument when he said, you know, it would be different if it was American lives that were being lost. And what about more than 100,000 Syrian lives, over the past two years, crying for help?

The red line has been crossed before and we're only now having this argument. I mean, after the Holocaust, after the Soviet purge we said never again. Bosnia, Cambodia, Halabja, Darfur, Syria, and where are we? You know, this is nauseating that we're having this argument that somehow says a Syrian life is worth less than another life. You know, if this was happening in Brussels right now we would be all over it. If it was European intervention, we would not hesitate one minute. If it was Rwanda, that's another story. That's what we're looking at right now I believe.

MARTIN: Keli...

JOHNSON: ...And I am really disturbed by it.

MARTIN: I see that. And Keli Goff, what about that? I mean, what about, you know, Bridget's point?

GOFF: Well, I think that she makes great points and I have to tell you, just privately with a friend last night who is from - not from Syria specifically but from a country very close by, and we had this conversation about the fact that the Holocaust remains one of the great shames of American history. I mean, the fact that 6 million people perished before we really did anything, but look I wish - this is one of those rare times, Michel, which you know I never hesitate to be very opinionated on air, but I'm just going to tell the truth which is, I don't know the right thing to do. I've never been happier I'm not president of the United States than right now.

MARTIN: What about the president's point that he made earlier today in Stockholm? That this is not his personal red line this is the world's red line. And that the governments around the world have said that this is the - a line that cannot be crossed. Why don't you tell us the other points of view then since you say that you're conflicted. Bridget's laid out her very clear point of view, what's your - what's the conflict for you? What's the other side of it?

GOFF: Well, the other side of it is that while they have crossed the red line and, look, there's a poll from December, ABC News, which said that Americans felt that if this line were crossed with chemical weapons we'd be all in and yet you see the poll from Washington Post yesterday, which shows that's actually not true. Now the numbers have completely flipped and the same 63 percent who supported it don't anymore. And that's why someone like me is conflicted because, you know, I've spent my - most of my adulthood out in the world post-9/11, constantly having our troops go and fight battles elsewhere. Our - you know, our military being stretched to the end of the earth to try to fight other people's wars and so my compassion compels me to step in, but the realities of here at home and what that means has me torn.

You know, who knows if this turns into an Operation Desert Fox, like back in '98 where it's only three days and we're in and we're out and who knows if it makes a difference. That's what we always say at the beginning of these things and that's not always how they turn out, Michel, you know. It turns longer, it turns messier and that's why I'm conflicted. I mean, for selfish reasons, as an American, I am conflicted.

MARTIN: Danielle, where are you on this?

BELTON: I'm equally as conflicted 'cause I feel like the decision to strike against Assad's regime is a really tough one, because we have international laws against the use of chemical weapons in warfare and the law doesn't mean anything if we don't enforce it. So, I mean, what's the point of having the United Nations or an international community if we can't come together on an issue like chemical weapons.

But at the same time, I'm really worried about the U.S. being drawn into another Middle East conflict. I think as long as our intentions are to retaliate for the 1,400 people who were killed and the many others who were injured in the attack, we have some moral high ground, but I just don't know.

GOFF: And especially 'cause where's the rest of the world, Michel? I mean, look at what happened with Cameron, right. If this red line is so important, where is - where are our allies on this with us?

MARTIN: Bridget, I'm just going to give you the final thought on this. Particularly asking you to address the points the other guests made. That, you know, if this is an international red line shouldn't there be an international coalition?

JOHNSON: There should, and you've actually had the Arab League strike out and blame Assad on this, like, you haven't really seen them go against another Arab leader before. Yes, you know, people are going to have to fall in line - Israel, Jordan, Turkey, they're all imperiled by what's going on in Syria right now.

But, you know, I also want to hit - touch on the polling and, you know, also note that, you know, it's really unfortunate, and I'm going to hit my side here, that a lot of the opposition to this seems to be coming from people who are against Obama at any cost. No matter what, you know, he wants to do. No matter if it's the right thing. And so I think that we need to drop the politics out of this, stop the politicking and that needs to be reflected on the House and the Senate floor when they vote on this resolution.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having our visit to the Beauty Shop. We're talking about the news of the week with our panel of women commentators and journalists. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media, that's who was speaking just now. That's a conservative libertarian news and opinion site. Danielle Belton's also with us. She's editor-at-large for Clutch magazine. And Keli Goff is political correspondent for

Switching gears now, just have to say that this is very much a switch in gears. So it's not a matter of life and death but it is the kind of thing that is important to talk about. Fast Company published a list of, quote, 25 of the smartest women on Twitter. Now, of course, we know that that's wrong 'cause none of your names were on it, and we know that you are.

JOHNSON: Why we love Michel Martin.

MARTIN: But the thing that really got kind of people's attention is that there were very few women of color on the list. There were no black women on the list at all. Now Fast Company since added some names, but, Danielle, I wanted to go to you as somebody who's plugged in to social media, what do you think? I mean, is that a fair criticism or not?

I mean, the author of the list said that she was interested - she mainly is interested in curating a list that would be useful to C-suite executives, you know, and that these are people who tend to have, you know, in her view, opinions that would be particularly interesting to the highest level executives and that's what that was. They said that they - they said, you know, oops, wrong, bad, my bad, but that was the foundation of the list. What do you think, fair criticism or not?

JOHNSON: Oh, come on. I mean, like - apparently, like, remember that study that said 40 percent of white people don't have any non-white friends? Apparently, Fast Company's part of the 40 percent. Like, obviously, they just didn't - it didn't occur to them to branch out. It didn't occur to them to be diverse 'cause they didn't have any diversity in front of them in the first place. They just didn't think about it. It didn't occur to them.

GOFF: Which...

MARTIN: ...Go ahead, Keli.

GOFF: Well, to me that actually speaks to - she just tapped into the larger issue - is look, I don't judge who people choose to make their friends. I mean, we get our friends and gravitate towards people for all sorts of reasons. I certainly judge who you choose to hire in your workplace. And what that list told me is that there's a stunning lack of diversity at Fast Company. And how do I know that? I looked at the list because what we see happen - this is a pattern. There's been a decrease in newsroom diversity.

They just released another study about that, it's been steadily declining. It's even worse this year. And this is the fall out of that, you know. Like when Vanity Fair got flack for doing a Hollywood issue that didn't have a single person of color and they didn't notice. I mean, they genuinely did not notice until the backlash occurred. This is what happens when you have a lack of diversity in the workplace and this just played into it.

MARTIN: But isn't that, from a business standpoint, I mean, shouldn't the result kind of drive the diversity rather than the other way around? I mean, I'm looking at the fact that "The Butler" has been kind of topping the weekend box office for three weeks running. My guess is that that is its own data point, that then if there were a similar list coming out this month then that would be sufficient to guarantee that somebody of color would be on that list simply because of those results. And so, I don't know. Bridget, what do you think? I mean, that's what - I think they're arguing that people just happen not to be in that field.

JOHNSON: But I mean how many high-level executives are listening to Chelsea Clinton?

MARTIN: Who is on the list.

JOHNSON: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, just to prove more how insular this is - it didn't go beyond the borders of America. You know, I was looking and I'm thinking, you know, some wonderful international women that I follow on Twitter who are not on this list. You know, a woman who's running for president of Afghanistan, you know, women who're reporting from Syria, very dangerous right now. And it was just very insular. Just...

GOFF: ...Can I say, Michel, one...

MARTIN: ...Sure, Keli, go.

GOFF: One thing I do want to say though, because I'm a big believer in chastising people when they're naughty and giving, you know, the positive reinforcement when they're good. I think Fast Company handled this beautifully because they didn't try to dodge and cover. They certainly owned up to their mistake immediately and said we're going to fix it.

Whereas a lot of people would still be having a conversation about how it's not intentional, it just happens, we picked the smartest, it wasn't personal, there just were no smart black ladies we know of, and of course we know Twitter, of course, corrected it with #SmartBlackWomen of Twitter. And Danielle I - I suggested Danielle for it. So...

BELTON: ...Which I greatly appreciated.

GOFF: So, yeah.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of wanting to be insulated, let's talk about - let's move from cyberspace to airspace. Flying is not much of a luxury anymore unless you're in first-class. But now a few airlines are offering child-free class. Singapore Airlines recently introduced a service called ScootinSilence class, which guarantees passengers that the cabin mates will have to be over the age of 12. And Keli, I understand that you're a fan of this idea.

GOFF: Yeah, I'm still getting angry mail from a piece I did for the Huffington Post titled "Why bad parents oppose kid-free flights." I don't know why people were so sensitive about the title. But, no, look, at the end of the day, it's just like riding the quiet car on Amtrak, right. Which is that you have the option of getting peace and quiet. And on Amtrak they have actually - I've seen police remove adults who don't adhere to that. The problem is kids are kids. And so you can't remove a child for simply crying or being a child. The only real option is to provide those of us who want to sleep or want to work while we travel is the option of not traveling with them.

MARTIN: Can I just ask you, so what if white people wanted to pay more just to sit with white people because they think that black people are too loud? I mean, didn't Rosa Parks settle the question that similarly situated people have to be treated similarly if they're paying the same price? I mean, are all children loud and are all adults quiet?

GOFF: Well, but you could ask the same question about movies, I mean, why are there movie ratings? Like, why are children not allowed in certain Broadway shows or certain films?

MARTIN: They are allowed and if they pay a ticket. If they pay a ticket and if their behavior does not comport to the standard that's required by the event...

GOFF: ...But they have PG-13...

MARTIN: ...Then they are asked to leave just like anybody else.

GOFF: ...But they have PG-13 films.

MARTIN: They can't go by themselves but they can go...


MARTIN: ...They're not barred from these films, right. So that's...

GOFF: ...Yeah, but you're not barred from the plane, you get to pay more to sit elsewhere.

MARTIN: Bridget?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I actually have a good example here. The 55-and-over communities, some of them around D.C., they're really nice and you're like, oh, I love that apartment...

GOFF: ...Exactly.

JOHNSON: And you look, and you see the rent is great but as a 30-something, are you going to get insulted? You move on. You find a different place.

MARTIN: It's not that you can't go.


BELTON: But you can't - now you actually can't move into over-55 communities. I've had - my mother's had this conversation. That's her dream, to live in one. Where...

MARTIN: ...Well, isn't that the difference between public accommodation, I mean, isn't - are you saying that airplanes - isn't that different where you live, isn't it different from where an airplane has to go? I mean, if you're a child that has to go visit a parent who - under a custody agreement...

GOFF: But these aren't - Michel, these aren't child - but they're not child - just to clarify, these are actually not child-free flights, they're about specific locations where you sit. They're not child-free 'cause what you're talking about is actually banning children from having the option of flying on a certain plane or a certain rate.

MARTIN: No, no, I'm going back to your quiet car analogy, which is to say that why is it - can you say with assurance that all children are noisy and all adults are quiet? And why isn't it about a behavioral standard as opposed to an age standard?

GOFF: Well, look, I actually agree with you because what I put in the Huffington Post piece is if we could actually start fining people for behavior, I think a lot of this nonsense child, adult, whichever, would stop because all the fights that have been grounded because a child misbehaved 'cause the parents didn't want to discipline them, I guarantee you if someone thought they were going to be fined on their credit card $500 for not controlling their kid that would probably stop. But if that's not going to be an option on the table then I think charging an extra 12 bucks for the people who don't want to sit near them is.

MARTIN: Danielle, what do you think?

BELTON: I don't have any children, but I am an aunt and I understand that parents need a way to transport their children when they're going someplace. I accept the fact that I don't have the right to live in a child-free zone. I expect to see children in restaurants, I expect to see kids on the plane, I expect to see kids pretty much everywhere.

The only place I have issues with children is when - Keli actually brought up the movies because it drives me crazy when someone brings their baby to an R-rated movie and they cry in the middle of it. But that's, like, that's a personal thing with me but I understand that there's no such thing as a child-free zone as long as we're in a public space.

GOFF: But why shouldn't there be, ever?

MARTIN: But what about people - what about adults who become agitated or frightened, I mean, do they then get fined for misbehavior? What about a senior citizen who becomes disoriented? What about someone who is having a diabetic attack or suddenly becomes disoriented? I mean, I'm just asking, you know, why it is that you feel that, you know, your perfect peace should never be disrupted by anybody having a bad day?

GOFF: Well, I don't think it should be anybody. I mean, the quiet car is one cart on a whole train. And what drives me insane is people choose to sit there and will whip out their cell phone, will choose to sit there, they chose to bypass the other cars and choose to sit there. So what I actually talked about in the piece, which I hope you guys will tweet, because I do cover a lot of these nuances, is there's a big difference between choice in behavior and people who are having a bad day, Michel.

I mean, because you're right, there are people who pass out, there are people who snore, but someone actually actively choosing not control their child who's running up and down an aisle, which I have had this happen. Someone choosing not to control a child who wants to throw toys at people on a plane, which I've also seen happen, is very different from a child who's crying 'cause they're an infant. And even in that case...

MARTIN: ...But I don't know that you would know. How do you know? How do you know when sometimes, I mean, I've see people passed out on the street who were having a diabetic attack and somebody thought that they were drunk. I mean, so how do you necessarily know what's motivating the behavior and why do you feel that you're in a position to judge it?

GOFF: If someone throws a toy and it hits me in the face, I'm in a position to judge that I don't want that to happen again.

MARTIN: And you...

GOFF: ...Sorry, you know, in the same way if someone stands up and is drunk and they, you know, hit me on a plane, I'm in a position to judge that that's not appropriate behavior. We can't judge all behavior but there are some things we can judge and we can control. And I think that what we can - look, I don't believe I should go on a plane and swear in front of children. I have a legal right to do so but I don't do that next to children because I think it's inappropriate. We all have to do our part. And all I'm asking is for some parents to have more of an incentive to do that.

MARTIN: You wanted to ask us to tweet out your piece but one of the things that we did forget to do is to nominate - ask people to nominate your favorite social media personalities. Respond on Facebook and Twitter using the #smartpeople to follow, or e-mail

Speaking of smart women who should've been on that list - I wanted to ask, Danielle, I mean, actually, Bridget, I'll ask you this sort of before we go. The whole thing of these lists of, like, the smartest people, I mean, isn't that just, like, annoying in its face? Like, the smartest people, I mean, who knows, like, all the smartest people ever? Or the funniest, the best dressed. I mean is that...

JOHNSON: ...Because as it is on Twitter...

MARTIN: ...Isn't that just polluting all of our lives, really?

JOHNSON: We're following people who already have pro-con issues that we're talking about that we want to hear their opinions on. So it already - you naturally go to a person's preferences when they're sitting down and making these lists. So...

MARTIN: ...OK, for Christmas we're going to do that list again and you're all going to be on it.


MARTIN: Danielle Belton is editor-at-large for Clutch magazine. She joined us from New York, along with Keli Goff, special correspondent for The Root. Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media. She joined us here in Washington, D.C. Thank you all so much.

GOFF: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.