Keli Goff: The One About Law And Order

Mar 1, 2013
Originally published on December 19, 2013 5:46 pm

It's your right to send complaints to your government officials. The trick is, after you send those letters, someone has to read them. That's where political analyst, blogger, and author Keli Goff got her start. Now, she serves as a political correspondent for The Root, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC, CNN, and NPR. Goff has also written a few books, including the critically acclaimed Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence.

Goff sat down with Ask Me Another's Ophira Eisenberg to chat about how she became an expert on youth and African-American voting trends, which all started with a discussion at a friend's birthday party. She also explains how she used her political acumen to write her first novel, The GQ Candidate.

Goff may look tough during her many TV appearances as a political commentator, but she still cried when she heard the news that her favorite show, Law & Order, was being cancelled. Joined by a fellow Law & Order buff from our listening audience, we quizzed Goff about the goings-on of New York City's most notorious fictional precinct.

About Keli Goff

Keli Goff is a political correspondent for The Root, an online publication that features a variety of African-American voices. As a political analyst, Goff has appeared on more than 100 national and international news programs for networks such as BET, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and the BBC. Her work regularly appears on the homepage of the Huffington Post and has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, TIME, ESSENCE and The Daily Beast. Her latest book, The GQ Candidate, was designated a recommended summer selection by MORE Magazine and The Los Angeles Times.

Goff's first book, the critically acclaimed Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence, is credited as one of the first publications to document the rise of "Generation Obama." She was profiled in the book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How we Think about Power.

Goff holds a B.A. from New York University and a Master's degree in Strategic Communications from Columbia University.

In the video below, Goff talks about her new book, The GQ Candidate on CBS News' Washington Unplugged.

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Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of trivia, puzzles and word games. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and joining me is political analyst and author Keli Goff. Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER, Keli.


EISENBERG: I have to ask you right off the top. You're young. You're beautiful. You're obviously very smart.

KELI GOFF: My mother clearly paid you to write this intro.

EISENBERG: Yes, she did.

GOFF: We're off to a great start.



EISENBERG: You seem sane and lucid.

GOFF: Okay.

EISENBERG: Why and how does someone decide to become a political pundit?

GOFF: Oh, you know what, I actually didn't decide.


GOFF: Which sounds like a somewhat crazy thing to say. But I was working in politics. I'd interned on Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign when I was in college. And when I graduated - I'm told this never happens - but literally, I was working part time at a law firm and that's how I decided not to become a lawyer.

And I kid you not, I got a phone call and someone said, "Hi, this is the office of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. We'd like you to come in for an interview." And because I'd interned on Senator Clinton's campaign and they knew some people there, they had me come in an interview.

And I got that job, and I was working as a totally entry level constituent service person. That means when you all go online and say my mail man is delivering my mail late, I got a pothole that's not being dealt with, that was me.

EISENBERG: Wait a second. Someone listens to that and reads that?

GOFF: Someone reads that mail and that was me, and who often deals with the people calling to scream at you, right, because...

EISENBERG: That was you?

GOFF: That was me. Because a lot of people who don't have things to do during the day like to just like call and bother and be like, you know, I've called five times. The mail is still arriving at 3:02. It's supposed to be here by 2:30 and I just think this is not acceptable. I'm a taxpayer.


GOFF: I'm writing another letter. So I...

EISENBERG: Wait a second. What do you say to those people?

GOFF: You write a letter. They are tax-paying citizens. So those of you who aren't abusing constituent services people, that's your tax paying right to do so. So go home and start writing letters right now. You have the right to do so.

EISENBERG: I can't wait to talk about what time my mail comes. That's been driving me crazy.

GOFF: That's the kind of - that was actually one of the most popular. There were so many stories from that one woman, actually, I kid you not, this is a true story. She kept writing letters because she was convinced that the postal service workers in her neighborhood were racist. They were black and she was convinced they were hiding her mail.

So she kept writing me letters. And you can imagine her face when she arrived at the office because she didn't think I was responding quickly enough. And she said I'd like to see Keli Goff, because I've been sending her letters about the racist black people at the post office. And I walked out and I said hi, I'm Keli.


GOFF: Nice to meet you.

EISENBERG: She was like the conspiracy is larger than I thought.


GOFF: She was convinced. She was like it's a huge conspiracy. They're taking over everything. I'd love to hear what she thinks about the president.


GOFF: Anyway, so I totally sidetracked. The point is after I worked there, I noticed a number of my friends who were in my age group were becoming registered independents, a number of my African American friends in my age group.

And, you know, call me crazy, I thought most African Americans were Democrats, at least that's kind of what I had been taught and knew and from the campaigns I had worked on. And so I thought, you know, this is interesting and if I were a writer - someone should be writing about this.

This seems to be a trend. Once I sort of met the fourth person, and I called my mom, who's in the audience, and she said, oh, one of my pastors is a registered independent and he's African American and under 40. And that seemed to be sort of the trend is that people who were under 40 and didn't go through the segregation and the civil rights era.

So my friend, one of my close friends had a birthday party. And I walked in and he says to me, "Listen, there's a guy here and you got to tell him about your book." And I said what book?


GOFF: I have a book; it turns out, huh? Yeah. And so it was really timing, because it was like the book was sold, President Obama announced he was running, young voters turned out in Iowa and that's what really - it changed my life. That sort of three-month window is just like my entire writing career. I did not have a writing career before that.

EISENBERG: And then your second book, "The GQ Candidate" is actually fiction.

GOFF: It is.

EISENBERG: You went for a novel.

GOFF: Yes, and I went completely the other extreme. It's completely fantastical. It's about a presidential candidate who's African American and has white parents but he's actually adopted.

And so this book was - what we were told is it was the first novel that was really through the eyes of the closest friends of a candidate. It wasn't about the candidate. It was sort of - I mean, people, the shorthand they used was entourage, but it was really about what you would do if you best friend comes and says, look, I know we did some kind of wacky things in college, but I'm running for president and...

EISENBERG: But it's time to bury the evidence.

GOFF: Time to bury the evidence. Ask your wife not to say anything. You know, the whole thing.

EISENBERG: And obviously, this is fiction, but I'm wondering, do you know if Obama read it or did he comment? Just because it's obviously you were talking about a very different story, but it is a African American man running for president.

GOFF: With...


GOFF: Multiracial parentage and the whole thing. I don't know if he read it, but I'd love to get that rumor started because I hear it's awful to book sales.

EISENBERG: All right.

GOFF: Can we spread that? Did someone - I think someone here said that they saw him holding a copy in a photo or something somewhere.

EISENBERG: I think so too, yeah.

GOFF: Right. Can we get that re-tweet going?

EISENBERG: Yeah, he was reading it I think just this morning right.

GOFF: Yeah, that's what I heard.

EISENBERG: So as someone that understands - you understand strategy very well, political strategy, the games that play in politics, the threat of the book, the scandal and everything. I will ask you this, as a challenge would you like to try playing a game on ASK ME ANOTHER?

GOFF: As long as it has nothing to do with philosophy. I was terrified.


EISENBERG: No problem. No problem.

GOFF: That was terrifying.


EISENBERG: Yeah, don't worry, we're not going to do philosophy.

GOFF: Okay.

EISENBERG: It's going to be very fun. How about a hand for Keli Goff?

GOFF: Oh, thank you.


GOFF: This is fun.

EISENBERG: Thank you. We're going to get you suited up in the puzzle hot seat over here, the puzzle podium.

GOFF: Okay. Okay.

EISENBERG: Jonathan, I'm so glad you're here. Can you please play that thing we talked about earlier?

JONATHAN COULTON: You're talking about this thing?


COULTON: Oh man, it's so good.

EISENBERG: That was so good.



COULTON: Thanks everybody.

EISENBERG: So Keli, you told our producers that you're a huge "Law & Order" fan. I hope that's...

GOFF: The original.

EISENBERG: The original. Okay. So you're sticking with your story.

GOFF: None of those knockoffs.

EISENBERG: Okay, good, because we wrote up a whole game about this.

GOFF: Okay.

EISENBERG: So we're hoping that you weren't just pretending.

GOFF: I hope I didn't oversell it.

EISENBERG: It's going to be fine. To take the edge off a bit, we found this lovely woman that is joining you onstage. Laurie Buckman is going to be helping you out.


EISENBERG: Laurie, you were a criminal justice major, is that right?


EISENBERG: And your love for "Law & Order" is deep.



EISENBERG: Are you an original or...


EISENBERG: Or did you do the spin-offs? Do you care?

BUCKMAN: Well, Vincent D'Onofrio, of course, but no.

EISENBERG: You're a purist.

BUCKMAN: I'm a purist, original.

EISENBERG: Okay, very good.


EISENBERG: How did you feel when it got cancelled, the original?

BUCKMAN: I cried a bit, yeah.

EISENBERG: You cried a bit.

BUCKMAN: I cried, yeah.

EISENBERG: I love that. Okay. She will be like you lifeline, Keli.

GOFF: Okay.

EISENBERG: You can go to her if you need some help.

GOFF: Okay.

EISENBERG: And your goal is to get five right.

GOFF: Okay, out of how many?

EISENBERG: Then you win. Out of how many? Seventeen. No.

GOFF: Okay.

EISENBERG: Let's try this first one. "Law & Order" is famous for its opening narration, which begins "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups." Name them.

GOFF: The district attorney who prosecutes the offender and...

BUCKMAN: And the police.

GOFF: ...police who...

BUCKMAN: Oh, go ahead.


BUCKMAN: Sorry. I wasn't asked yet. I wasn't asked for help yet.

EISENBERG: That's okay.

GOFF: It's the district attorney who prosecutes the offender and the police who something.

EISENBERG: Yes. Who - what is it Laurie?

BUCKMAN: Yeah, police and then the - the district...


EISENBERG: Whatever you guys are doing is correct. You are correct.



GOFF: We knew which comes first.

COULTON: Yeah, we'll take that. It doesn't need to be in the right order.

EISENBERG: That's fine. Introduced in season 4, one character appeared in a whopping 390 episodes, the most of any character. The actress who played wore a wig to conceal her natural hair which is braided into locks.

GOFF: Oh, oh.

EISENBERG: Okay, yeah, go for it.


GOFF: Can I have a buzzer?

EISENBERG: Yeah, Keli.

GOFF: Who is S. Epatha Merkerson?



EISENBERG: And you answered in the form of a question. It's like you're sort of - like you're putting the whole show together for us.


EISENBERG: You're putting the whole show together for us. The crimes featured on "Law & Order" take place within what fictional police precinct, which seems to have its more than fair share amount of crime. I can give you...


EISENBERG: Laurie is miming the answer.

GOFF: I'm not good at math. Do it again.

EISENBERG: You're not...

BUCKMAN: The 27th Precinct.

EISENBERG: The 27th Precinct is correct.

GOFF: That's good. Wow, she's good.


EISENBERG: A fictional precinct, it does not exist.

COULTON: Is that true, it's a fictional precinct?

EISENBERG: Yeah, it does not exist. They sort of...

BUCKMAN: The 2-7, sure.

EISENBERG: Yeah, the allude. The 2-7, I know - Laurie's like, the 2-7, I've sort of been there.


EISENBERG: I know it doesn't exist. I've been there. They say it sort of exists like way up town, basically, something like that.

GOFF: So it does exist.

EISENBERG: But it doesn't exist. But it doesn't exactly exist.

GOFF: It's too far uptown.

COULTON: It's too far uptown. It doesn't exist.



COULTON: It might as well not exist.

EISENBERG: Trust me, when I moved to New York, my sister would watch "Law & Order" episodes and write down the addresses where the crimes took place.


GOFF: That's awesome.

EISENBERG: And send them to me, as if that was real. District Attorney Jack McCoy had a reputation for getting romantically involved with his coworkers. And who could blame him? Me. Don't do that.


EISENBERG: But anyways, he did have six beautiful ADAs that work with him over 16 seasons but he only had an affair with one of them. Which ADA hooked up with "hang 'em high McCoy?"



GOFF: Who is Claire Kincaid, portrayed by actress Jill Hennessy?

EISENBERG: That is correct.


EISENBERG: So, you know, you're doing great. You got them all right so far. You only have one more to get right.


And then you've done it.

GOFF: Yes.

EISENBERG: According to the philosopher Immanuel Kantz.

GOFF: Uh-oh.



COULTON: I'd like to see how you're going to tie that in with "Law & Order."

EISENBERG: Well this question is sort of about the philosopher. Which senior detective said the following quip? "Home alone is a movie not an alibi?"

GOFF: It's who is Lennie Briscoe, portrayed by Jerry Robach?

EISENBERG: That is correct, well done.


EISENBERG: You've don't it. You have won. Congratulations. Five questions.

GOFF: 2-7. Yeah, sister.


EISENBERG: You guys cleaned up. And Keli and Laurie, as a little gift for your winnings, we are giving you an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube that you can take home and solve on your own.

GOFF: Yay.

EISENBERG: Thank you so much.


EISENBERG: A big hand for our contestant helper, lifeline Laurie Buckman. And one more big round of applause for our VIP Keli Goff.


EISENBERG: I love that. "Home alone is a movie not an alibi."

COULTON: That guy had a lot of good quips.

EISENBERG: Home alone 2 is an alibi.


EISENBERG: All right, Jonathan Coulton, what are you going to play for us?

COULTON: I'm going to play a song, you know, sometimes if you do the crime, you got to do the time. Not always, but sometimes. This is a song by Johnny Cash.


COULTON: I hear the train a coming, it's rolling round the bend. I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. And I'm stuck at Folsom Prison. Time keeps dragging on. The train keeps a rolling on down to San Anton.

When I was just a baby, my momma told me, son, always be a good boy. Don't ever play with guns. But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry.


COULTON: Thank you.

EISENBERG: That was Jonathan Coulton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.