STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A familiar face re-emerged on the campaign trail over the weekend.
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BARACK OBAMA: The biggest threat to our democracy, I said yesterday, is not - it's not one individual. It's not one big superPAC, billionaires. It's apathy. It's indifference.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
That of course the voice of former President Barack Obama. He spoke on Friday in Illinois and again on Saturday at a campaign rally for Democrats in California, the former president clearly making his message very apparent on the campaign trail.
INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Hey, what brought out the former president now?
LIASSON: Well, it's less than 60 days till Election Day, and he wants to get Democrats and independents to come out and vote for Democratic candidates. He is somebody who's very popular with his base, like Donald Trump. He also potentially can motivate the base of his opponents to come out. That's what Republicans are counting on. They're going to - they're happy to have Obama as a foil, kind of like Nancy Pelosi.
But midterm elections are referendums on the party in power and the president, and Obama is not the president right now. And Donald Trump is the No. 1 factor in this race. We've seen in these special elections that his approval rating in these districts is a pretty good proxy for what the Republican eventually gets.
And even more than previous presidents Trump has made this election all about him. He increasingly talks about impeachment. He says if Democrats come back into power, they're going to try to remove him from office. He talks about it even more than Democrats do. So this is a big test - whether Obama or Trump can motivate their voters better.
INSKEEP: Well, how is the picture looking for Democrats right now?
LIASSON: Well, polls for the House - at least the generic ballot, which is like a national vote for the House, shows that Democrats have the potential to take the House back. But what was surprising last week was there was a bunch of polls for the Senate that showed Democratic incumbents in red states like Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, states where Trump won sometimes by double digits, holding their own. These are places that should be prime pickup opportunities for Republicans. So far, Democrats are surprisingly competitive.
We also had a report that Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, told a private fundraiser of Republicans that Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Texas, might be in trouble. And the president is going to make a trip to Mississippi this week. No Republican president should ever have to go to Mississippi to help out a Republican candidate.
INSKEEP: Wow. Wow. Such a change. Right after the 2016 election some Republicans were saying, the map favors us so much we could end up with 60 votes in the Senate potentially. We could keep the House. And now they're just trying to hang on in both houses. With that said, though, Vice President Mike Pence was criticizing President Obama for coming out and speaking for Democrats. Isn't that a little unusual for a former president to criticize a sitting president so directly?
LIASSON: It might be a little bit unusual, but I think that Donald Trump has busted so many norms that it's hard to talk about what are the things that should be done and should not be done in politics now.
INSKEEP: OK, Mara, thanks very much, appreciate it.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.
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INSKEEP: The CEO of CBS is out. Les Moonves was already under pressure after a story in The New Yorker and then resigned after a second story.
MARTIN: The articles detail allegations by a dozen women who accuse Moonves of sexual harassment, assault and retaliation against them when they refused his advances. Some of the incidents date back to before Les Moonves arrived at CBS in 1995. He was named chief executive of the network in 2003.
INSKEEP: All right, Ronan Farrow wrote these stories for The New Yorker, and he's on the line. Thanks for joining us.
RONAN FARROW: Pleasure to be here.
INSKEEP: So some people will have read or heard of your first article a number of weeks ago. There were a number of women there who accused Les Moonves of harassment. But your next story had more accusers. How much worse did the allegations get?
FARROW: Well, obviously these are more numerous. These are six women all on the record. And these are also, as you point out, more serious allegations. These include allegations that Mr. Moonves exposed himself to women, that he forced women to perform oral sex on him, that he used physical violence and that he intimidated women and destroyed their careers.
INSKEEP: There is a remarkable detail in your latest story that one of the women filed a criminal complaint. Even though the statute of limitations had expired - it was an occasion from decades ago - she filed this complaint, which caused police to look into it. What'd they find?
FARROW: That's exactly right. And we spoke to law enforcement sources who said they regarded her claim as being extremely credible. As you say, they didn't proceed with charges due to the statute of limitations issues. But she decided after the burgeoning of the #MeToo movement and all of these women coming forward that she could no longer stay silent.
INSKEEP: How seriously would you say that CBS has taken these allegations?
FARROW: Well, one of the things that's striking about that woman's story - her name is Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb. She's a veteran television executive. She's now in her 80s. She was in her 40s when this incident happened - is that she says, you know, she told everyone about this, and they did nothing. And that actually appears to be the case. We know now and have reported that at least part of the CBS board of directors was notified about the LAPD investigation - and this is into a serious allegation of forced oral sex - and didn't act at the time. So this is...
INSKEEP: I want to be clear on the timeline here.
INSKEEP: You're not saying that they didn't act decades ago when attitudes might have been different. They didn't act last year when this complaint was filed. Is that what you said?
FARROW: In January of this year, a portion of the board was notified. And they did not suspend Mr. Moonves. He continued to run the company. After the first six of these allegations in The New Yorker emerged, they also did not suspend Mr. Moonves, and they continued to let him run the company. And then I think the final straw for a number of these women - and they expressed frustration about this in this article - was learning that the board was then negotiating a sort of graceful exit for Mr. Moonves where he would leave voluntarily, potentially with an exit package up to a hundred million dollars. That plan has now been scrapped, but that was the intention as of a few days ago.
INSKEEP: I guess the board...
FARROW: And that was a source of frustration.
INSKEEP: I guess the board now says it's directing some of CBS's money in a different place now.
FARROW: So in response to these women's allegations, it does appear that they will both give $20 million to organizations focused on sexual harassment and assault, that he will leave as of now pending the results of an investigation with no exit compensation and that they will reshape the board of directors, that there are going to be six new members.
INSKEEP: Ronan Farrow, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
FARROW: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Ronan Farrow wrote two stories about CBS executive Les Moonves in The New Yorker. And Moonves, as we said, has resigned.
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INSKEEP: OK, the headline is simple. The story behind it is not. Twenty-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated Serena Williams on Saturday to win the U.S. Open in tennis, a surprising win. Williams was looking to tie the all-time Grand Slam singles record. But the match is drawing attention for more reasons than the upset.
MARTIN: All right, so Serena Williams lost after the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, slapped her with multiple penalties, including a point penalty for breaking her racquet and then a game penalty for arguing and calling Ramos a thief. This all started when the umpire handed down a warning after Williams' coach made these hand gestures from the stands. The umpire construed those as sideline coaching, which is against the rules.
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SERENA WILLIAMS: If he gives me a thumbs-up, he's telling me to come on. We don't have any code. And I know you don't know that. And I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I'm telling you it's not. I don't cheat to win. I'd rather lose. I'm just letting you know.
MARTIN: Serena talking to Ramos there. So Serena Williams was fired - was fined, rather, $17,000 for among other things verbal abuse of the referee.
INSKEEP: Joining me now is NPR's Tom Goldman, who's covering this story. Hey there, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So she can - she loses the match. She loses a game within the match as a penalty and then loses the match. She congratulates her opponent on this triumph and then says the whole situation would have been different, would have been handled differently had she been a man. What do you make of that?
GOLDMAN: She feels very strongly that there was sexism at play here, Steve. She said, men get away with it when they say much worse things than thief or a liar, which she - which is what she called Ramos. And she put this in the context of her advocacy for female athletes' rights.
She has spoken up for pay equity in sports. She's talked about her frustration of being labeled one of the world's greatest female athletes and being judged by her gender and not her achievements. Then of course there's more backdrop to this - the French Open's recent banning of the skintight so-called cat suit that Williams wore partly, she says, to help her deal with blood clots.
And also, during this U.S. Open, a female player was given a code violation when she took off her shirt on court, which violated a policy restricting women from doing that even though men do it constantly and stand around showing off their abs of steel. After a ton of social media criticism, the USTA, U.S. Tennis Association, revised the policy so women can change their shirts. So all of this had been simmering, and then Williams made her claim in the heat of that moment during the finals on Saturday.
MARTIN: We also have to say the words John McEnroe right now, don't we as well?
GOLDMAN: Sure (laughter).
MARTIN: I mean, this is a person who made his name - got famous because he was breaking racquets all the time, calling refs all kinds of things.
INSKEEP: Abusing the refs, yeah. Yeah.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, he was. But he got slapped. He was kicked out of the 1990 Australian Open. Let's not forget that. So it's not that he was, you know - he was, you know, kind of made famous for being the brat. And it became kind of this cult around him. But, yeah, lots of umpires gave him penalties, too.
INSKEEP: Well, that does raise a question, Tom, as people have responded to this. Serena Williams says she was treated unfairly. She did, however, break a racquet. She did yell at a referee. So are people in the tennis world saying - are they nodding and saying, yeah, she was treated more harshly than a man would have been?
GOLDMAN: Some are. Some are, including Billie Jean King. But there are some, you know, especially on social media who've been saying that Williams was at fault for what some called bullying the umpire relentlessly, verbally attacking him, which her critics said was a meltdown brought on by the fact that she was getting walloped on the court by this 20-year-old newcomer.
INSKEEP: Tom, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Goldman.
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