PBS’s Tavis Smiley Attacks Sequester as ‘Austerity’

Liberal PBS host Tavis Smiley recently became the latest media member to refer to the $85 billion sequester as “austerity.” On his self-titled show Tuesday night, the taxpayer-subsidized Smiley got all frowny while discussing the American economy with former FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair:

"Since you raised the issue, let me ask how it is, in your mind at least, the notion of austerity, and whatever people in Washington don’t want to call it, that’s exactly what this is. Sequestration’s a big, fancy word. This is austerity masking as a conversation about deficit reduction as far as I’m concerned."

First of all, Mr. Smiley, “sequestration” is only four letters bigger and fancier than “austerity.” Second, austerity doesn’t need to mask itself as deficit reduction because it is a method of deficit reduction. In recent years, a number of governments around the world have undertaken austerity measures to reduce their massive budget deficits. And if a country’s goal is to reduce its deficit, austerity is a very effective technique.

Having said that, it is misleading for Smiley to characterize the sequester as “austerity.” Real austerity is done quickly and comprises actual spending reductions. Our present sequester will take effect gradually and merely slow the growth in government spending.

Real austerity can be painful to a country, as the government may cut back on core functions. But this sequester represents only about 2 percent of the federal budget. What's more, federal government officers have the flexibility to allocate the cuts so that essential services are spared. There is no reason the sequester should cause planes to fall out of the sky or children to be kicked out of Head Start.

Tavis Smiley should be thankful that this country is not actually going through austerity. If we were, public television would be a likely candidate for the chopping block. Smiley wouldn’t be able to rant and rave on-air anymore at our expense, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.