PBS's Tavis Smiley Fumes Over Failure of Gun Control Legislation

 

Last week, before the Senate voted on the Manchin-Toomey gun control bill, Tavis Smiley declared that the idea that expanded background checks might not pass made him want to throw up. Well, the Senate has voted down the measure, and Smiley didn’t throw up on-camera. But he did hack up an angry rant on his PBS talk show Monday night.

The host focused on the idea that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor expanded background checks: "If there are polls and studies and surveys that show – and I’ve seen them, so I know this is true. If there are polls and studies and surveys that show that 90 percent of the American people want – or would have wanted, still want – some sort of background check, it raises the question how the president lost on this issue."

Perhaps Smiley isn't aware that the United States is not a direct democracy. If it were directly up to the voters, background checks undoubtedly would have been expanded. But, alas, we live in a representative democracy. It was the opinions of 100 senators that mattered in this particular case; even President Obama’s opinion was technically irrelevant to this vote.

Additionally, the issue isn't as simple as the PBS host makes it out to be. A new poll from USA Today finds that support overall for a gun control bill has dropped below 50 percent. Americans favor it 49-45. Writer Susan Page explained:

"Americans are more narrowly divided on the issue than in recent months, and backing for a bill has slipped below 50%, the poll finds. By 49%-45%, those surveyed favor Congress passing a new gun-control law. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in early April, 55% had backed a stricter gun law, which was down from 61% in February."

Yet, Smiley obsessed over this 90 percent number: "I can’t imagine you could tell me anything in my life that I have a 90 percent chance of doing – running a marathon, winning a woman’s heart – I mean, you can’t tell me I have a 90 percent chance of doing anything and I lose that. I just can’t – I can’t figure that out."

Smiley’s rant culminated in a question to his guest, Politico’s Anna Palmer: "Give me your sense of how the president could stare at numbers that said that 90 percent of the people were with him, and he could not find a way to beat, to berate, to campaign, to go to the states of these senators, like North Dakota and elsewhere, and take his message directly to the American people and get this done. How do you lose a fight when 90 percent of the people are with you?"

By calling out the president for not beating and berating senators, it sounds like Smiley is blaming Obama for the lack of gun control legislation. He did the same on his radio show Smiley & West on April 19. But on his radio program, he spread his venom further, blaming the president and all Democrats for not taking action on gun control after Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) was wounded in the Tucson shooting in 2011:

"Democrats did nothing. President Obama didn’t do anything. Pelosi didn’t do anything. Reid didn’t do anything when one of their own, not that that’s what it should take, but when a member of your own party becomes the spokesperson."

Smiley showed the anger of a true gun control advocate as he finished his radio rant:

"The President didn’t do anything when these guns were going off every day on the South side of Chicago where he lives, nothing was done. So we didn’t even get to this conversation until after Sandy Hook and now the President stands up and points the fingers at Republicans you know for being obstructionists and he calls it a shameful day. You’re right and he is right it’s a shameful day. There have been many shameful days before we got to this one."

Below is the full television rant:


TAVIS SMILEY: That raises another question, and I think it was a brilliant question that Maureen Dowd, again, raised, and she’s not the only one but she certainly raised this in her piece on Sunday. It got my attention, and I’ve had this conversation countless times myself, with myself and with others, and that is to the point you make now about 90 percent. If there are polls and studies and surveys that show – and I’ve seen them, so I know this is true. If there are polls and studies and surveys that show that 90 percent of the American people want – or would have wanted, still want –  some sort of background check, it raises the question how the president lost on this issue. I can’t imagine you could tell me anything in my life that I have a 90 percent chance of doing – running a marathon, winning a woman’s heart – I mean, you can’t tell me I have a 90 percent chance of doing anything and I lose that. I just can’t –  I can’t figure that out. So you’re on the Hill. Give me your sense of how the president could stare at numbers that said that 90 percent of the people were with him, and he could not find a way to beat, to berate, to campaign, to go to the states of these senators, like North Dakota and elsewhere, and take his message directly to the American people and get this done. How do you lose a fight when 90 percent of the people are with you? That’s the question Maureen raised in her piece, what’s your thought about it?

Here is the April 19 radio rant:

TAVIS SMILEY: It was a shameful day this week. It was also shameful in the first couple of years of his first term that he didn’t do anything about this issue. After Gabby Giffords, I was watching Gabby Giffords standing next to the President and I was thinking 'You got shot in the head. They shot you in the head and almost killed you. Your life will never be the same.' And they killed a federal judge and the Democrats, you are a Democrat you are a Democrat member of Congress your own party didn’t do anything about gun control when you were the poster child the poster person for gun control. Democrats didn’t do nothing. President Obama didn’t do anything. Pelosi didn’t do anything. Reid didn’t do anything when one of their own, not that that’s what it should take, but when a member of your own party becomes the spokesperson. The Democrats did not do anything on gun control.The President didn’t do anything when these guns were going off every day on the South side of Chicago where he lives, nothing was done. So we didn’t even get to this conversation until after Sandy Hook and now the President stands up and points the fingers at Republicans you know for being obstructionists and he calls it a shameful day. You’re right and he is right calls it’s a shameful day. There have been many shameful days before we got to this one.

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