Russert, Tavis Smiley Agree on NBC: GOP No-Shows Screwed Up

On Friday morning’s Today, NBC put the thumb-screws on the Republican PBS debate no-shows in a segment with NBC’s Tim Russert and an outraged PBS host Tavis Smiley, who in his outrage over being snubbed, equated himself with history, that skipping his debate was a "watershed moment" in American history. Russert piled on with the same liberal media spin, quoting all the Republicans who said the no-shows were making a huge mistake, that attending was "good politics" – and no Republican holding a contrary opinion.Lauer made no attempt to ask Smiley if he could have rescheduled the event to accomodate the demands of fundraising, and made no attempt to ask Smiley if the Republicans would be wrong to assume the debate would be a hostile forum, considering that Smiley has been an aggressive Bush-basher, including his description of candidate George Bush as a "serial killer." (Lauer did suggest that perhaps the black vote isn’t exactly up for grabs.) The whole fuss over the debate didn’t allow a debate. It was only one side, the exacerbate-the-Republican-image-problem side.

LAUER: Tavis, let me start with you. You look at the press coverage of last night's debate, and to be honest the majority of the coverage has nothing to do with the content of the debate; things like housing, education, drug sentencing. What it really is talking about are these no-shows. How do you feel about that?Mr. SMILEY: I think in the coming days, Matt, we'll get to that kind of conversation as this campaign rolls on. But I'm not at all disturbed by the fact the conversation right now is focusing on who was not there last night. Let me be clear. In the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, no one--black, white, brown, male, female, Republican or Democrat--ought to be elected president, Matt, if they think that along the way they can ignore voters of color. These persons--Mr. Romney, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain, Mr. Thompson--who chose not to show up last night missed a major opportunity to share their vision of how to make America a nation as good as its promise...LAUER: Tavis? Tavis?Mr. SMILEY: Yes.LAUER: You've never--you've never had a problem being blunt, so let me ask you a blunt question.Mr. SMILEY: Sure.LAUER: Was this a scheduling conflict? Did these four candidates have a scheduling issue, or was this a political calculation, them thinking ‘What do I have to gain? I'm probably not going to get a lot of those votes anyway.’Mr. SMILEY: I think it was the latter, Matt. You can't tell no--can't say no to every black request you receive. You can't say no to every Hispanic request you receive and then say it's a scheduling issue. It's not a scheduling issue, it's a pattern.LAUER: Tim, scheduling issue or political calculation?RUSSERT: Matt, when you're in a presidential campaign, you can make time for debates. Candidates do all the time. What has been remarkable about this are the things Republicans are saying. Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland ran for the Senate said, `Please, you have to show up for these things.' Ken Mehlman, former national chairman of the Republican Party. Jack Kemp ran for vice president in '96, said `Are we going be a party that's meeting at country clubs?' This is a very serious issue. And Matt, if you listen to the candidates who showed up last night, there are Republican answers to these problems that contrast with the Democrats and it's healthy for a democracy to hear both sides.LAUER: Let me bring up a competitive point, and both of you can weigh in on this. Are you at all surprised that any of these four leading candidates, these front-runners on the Republican side, didn't look and say, `Wait a minute, you mean these other three guys aren't showing up? There's a great opportunity for me to be the only front-runner to appear on that stage.' Tim:RUSSERT: Wide open for one of them to show up last night unannounced, saying, `You know what? I thought about this, I have to be here.' Matt, not only because it's the right thing to do, but think of the politics. Kevin Corke mentioned Ohio. You look at New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada. Hispanics are going to determine the outcome in those states. It's critical. Florida? African-Americans, Hispanics can put any candidate over the top. It's just good politics and it's good policy.LAUER: Tavis...Mr. SMILEY: Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt. Beyond that, right quick, it speaks to the kind of political pandering, this rush to the bottom that we're getting from so many of these candidates. And beyond that, it says again to voters of color that you don't matter. `We can avoid you in the primary.' But I think that black and brown voters are going to say to these candidates, Matt, `If you didn't come see us in October, don't look for us in November.'LAUER: So in other words, October of 2008, when one of these four people presumably will be the Republican nominee and they start showing up at some of these minority-sponsored events, the reception will be chilly?Mr. SMILEY: I don't think that this is hyperbole at all to suggest that last night is a watershed moment in how the Republican Party and its nominee moves forward. That old so-called Southern strategy, that dog just won't hunt any more in America.

Tavis Smiley is clearly one of the most egotistical people on television, and that is quite a contest. He has clearly stated in every forum that spurning Tavis is spurning blacks, and from there, it becomes spurning Tavis is lining yourself up with a racially-divisive black-bashing campaign strategy. Can he prove that any of these candidates have run a racially divisive campaign in their speeches or commercials?It's quite amazing that PBS, our taxpayer-funded broadcast outlet, would lend its supposed nonpartisanship to such a partisan attack on the Republicans who have a chance of winning. There's no doubt that Barack and Hillary and Democrats in general are loving this whole PBS attack on the Republican party's image.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis