CBS’s Smith Asks Sharpton About ‘Racial Slur’ Against Tiger Woods

Following a segment on Monday wondering if America was "finally color-blind" in the wake of Barack Obama’s Iowa caucus win, on Friday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith seemed to say no as he previewed a segment on recent comments made about Tiger Woods: "Also coming up in this half hour words that wound, Tiger Woods reacts to a racial slur from a Golf Channel anchor."

During the segment, Smith talked to the liberal Reverend Al Sharpton and liberal former New York radio host Ron Kuby about the comments. Smith began by observing: "...for years we've been navigating a changing world when it comes to racially insensitive remarks, but with the Don Imus incident, the national dialogue has changed a lot." Smith then played the clip of Golf Channel Anchor Kelly Tilghman who suggested that the only way for other golfers to beat Tiger Woods was to "lynch him in a back alley." However, Smith also mentioned that, "Tiger Woods said not to worry, that he and Tilghman are long time friends."

Smith asked Sharpton, "You think this is a big deal?" to which Sharpton responded:

I think that it is. Either you're going to have standards or you're not. I think if you give Tilghman a pass, then who then stops the next person from saying something insensitive and saying Tilghman is an example of how come I can say this. And I think the problem with Tilghman's statement, regardless to the reaction of Tiger Woods, is it was very offensive, if I had said about a Jewish person, let's throw them in a gas chamber, I don't think there would have been a question I'd have been off the radio and I have a radio show. So I think you've got to either have standards or you don't have standards.

Smith then turned to Kuby, who actually defended Tilghman: "If you fired everybody that made a stupid, offensive comment, you'd fire everybody. And it was well intended, in the sense that she was trying to pay Tiger Woods a compliment."

But Sharpton was far less willing to let Tilghman get off that easy as he disregarded the fact that Woods was not upset about the comment:

SMITH: It doesn't seem that she's meaning any disrespect here. It's clear that she does respect him.

SHARPTON: It's not about him. It's about the term ‘lynching’ and -- and the clear indication of what lynching means. I mean, first of all let's remember we're in an era now --

SMITH: Is she just not -- is she just not aware? Is that possible?

SHARPTON: How do you have the job she has and not be aware? We're in an era right now where we're fighting hangman nooses that have just been resurrected with Jena, Louisiana and all -- to say that --

SMITH: But as Maya Angelou said on this show, when those nooses were being used, those stories weren't getting on the front page of the paper. Now just the mention of a noose gets on the --

SHARPTON: That's good because we need to stop acting like it's all right to use symbols of lynching people.

Smith again described how Woods was not upset as he quoted the golfer’s agent: "Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally there was no ill intent on her comments." Despite this, Sharpton continued undeterred:

And that's fine for them to take that position. They're golfers. They're not civil rights activists. I mean, a guy once stabbed me leading a march. I went to court and testified and said I forgive the guy, but he still went to jail. We're talking about what happens when you break standards in broadcasting.

Smith got some final thoughts from Kuby, who continued to defend Tilghman, while bashing conservative Christians at the same time: "We don't need arbiters of speech in this country, whether they're the Christian Right or even progressive activists, you know, who are trying to do the right thing. We don't need more censorship, we need more speech."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:21AM TEASER:

JULIE CHEN: In our next half hour, a racial slur directed at Tiger Woods. We're back with more.

7:31AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: Also coming up in this half hour words that wound, Tiger Woods reacts to a racial slur from a Golf Channel anchor.

7:32AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: First, though, for years we've been navigating a changing world when it comes to racially insensitive remarks, but with the Don Imus incident, the national dialogue has changed a lot. Now we have an incident involving Tiger Woods and Golf Channel Anchor Kelly Tilghman, who said this.

UNIDENTIFIED GOLF CHANNEL ANCHOR: Take Tiger on -- well yeah, maybe they should just gang up for a while, until --

KELLY TILGHMAN: Lynch him in a back alley.

GOLF CHANNEL ANCHOR: Yeah, that's right.

SMITH: But here's the twist. Tiger Woods said not to worry, that he and Tilghman are long time friends. And while some call for her firing, she has been suspended for two weeks. So the question of the day, does what she said matter, or is the situation different if the remark comes from a friend? With us today, civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton and civil rights lawyer and former radio host, Ron Kuby. Good morning to you both.

RON KUBY: Good morning.

Al SHARPTON: Good morning.

SMITH: You think this is a big deal?

Al SHARPTON: I think that it is. Either you're going to have standards or you're not. I think if you give Tilghman a pass, then who then stops the next person from saying something insensitive and saying Tilghman is an example of how come I can say this. And I think the problem with Tilghman's statement, regardless to the reaction of Tiger Woods, is it was very offensive, if I had said about a Jewish person, let's throw them in a gas chamber, I don't think there would have been a question I'd have been off the radio and I have a radio show. So I think you've got to either have standards or you don't have standards.

SMITH: And you're -- you're thinking what?

RON KUBY: My thinking is that it's incredibly to do live broadcasting every single day and not say something stupid or offensive. And when people get into trouble, it's usually this kind of place. Race, gender, making some sort of joking reference to Hitler or the Holocaust, lynching or nooses, this is how hosts always get themselves into trouble. But it's very, very common. If you fired everybody that made a stupid, offensive comment, you'd fire everybody. And it was well intended, in the sense that she was trying to pay Tiger Woods a compliment. He's so good, the only way you're going to be able to beat him is to kill him.

SMITH: It doesn't seem that she's meaning any disrespect here. It's clear that she does respect him.

SHARPTON: It's not about him. It's about the term ‘lynching’ and -- and the clear indication of what lynching means. I mean, first of all let's remember we're in an era now --

SMITH: Is she just not -- is she just not aware? Is that possible?

SHARPTON: How do you have the job she has and not be aware? We're in an era right now where we're fighting hangman nooses that have just been resurrected with Jena, Louisiana and all -- to say that --

SMITH: But as Maya Angelou said on this show, when those nooses were being used, those stories weren't getting on the front page of the paper. Now just the mention of a noose gets on the --

SHARPTON: That's good because we need to stop acting like it's all right to use symbols of lynching people.

KUBY: Nobody's saying the comment was okay. It was ugly. It was hurtful. It was offensive. And it was totally uneducated. The issue is what should the consequence be? And for her to lose her job, look, this is the Golf Channel. It's not as though there's a zillion opportunities for this woman, given the fact she didn't intend harm and given how easy it is to say stupid things, let's have a discussion but let's not hound her off the air.

SMITH: Alright, well this is the statement from Tiger's agent, 'this story is a non-issue. Tiger and Kelly are friends. Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally there was no ill intent on her comments. This story is a non-issue in our eyes.

SHARPTON: And that's fine for them to take that position. They're golfers. They're not civil rights activists. I mean, a guy once stabbed me leading a march. I went to court and testified and said I forgive the guy, but he still went to jail. We're talking about what happens when you break standards in broadcasting.

SMITH: Final thought?

KUBY: The final thought is this. We don't need arbiters of speech in this country, whether they're the Christian Right or even progressive activists, you know, who are trying to do the right thing. We don't need more censorship, we need more speech.

SHARPTON: I think that's not censorship.

SMITH: We'll agree to disagree this morning?

SHARPTON: We will.

SMITH: Alright, there you go. Al Sharpton, Ron Kuby, really interesting. Thanks so much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC