PBS Host Tavis Smiley Bizarrely Claims 'You Lie' Comment to Obama Our 'Greatest Moment of Incivility'

On his PBS talk show on Tuesday, Tavis Smiley brought on liberal Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to discuss the Tucson shooting, but he was still reliving the much tinier, nonviolent nightmare of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) yelling "You lie!" at President Obama during a September 2009 address to Congress to sell ObamaCare. He suggested it was the greatest moment of incivility in the history of the House of Representatives. 

This would seem to be skipping incidents like Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina savagely beating Sen. Charles Sumner with his cane over slavery in 1856. The History Channel says "Brooks became an instant hero in the South, and supporters sent him many replacement canes." (Or there's the Puerto Rican terrorists shooting up the place and wounding five House members in 1956...) But Smiley was adamant:

Clearly, no one was shot, nobody lost his or her life in this process, but it's hard to find a greater moment of incivility in the history of the House than when your colleague on the other side of the aisle, Mr. Wilson, stood up in the president's speech, President Obama's speech, and said, "You lie" for the nation and the world to hear. If ever there were a moment of incivility in our politics, it was that moment.

The president accepted his apology rather quickly, and for whatever reasons, and I'm not casting aspersion, I'm just calling the facts as they are, the president at that moment, is my point, chose not to use that as a teachable moment to talk to us about incivility. We know now he's on his way to Arizona to speak tomorrow night and to console the victims and their families, et cetera. So should the president now take this opportunity -- he hasn't said anything as yet -- about civility? Should he talk about that now?

Smiley's support for Obama overlooked the fact that Obama called his opponents a liar in his own speech that night: "Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim...that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple." Apparently, it's still "civility" if you call your opponents liars from the podium, just not from the peanut gallery. But of course, the congresswoman agreed:

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes, in short. We have had - without singling individuals out, but we have had presidents in the recent past [Bush, anyone?] miss opportunities to bring the nation together and to -- who have not taken advantage of the turning point that an incident like this is.

We really are, Tavis, at a turning point right now. This is an opportunity that Gabby Giffords, as well as I know her, and

as strongly as I know she feels about the importance of moderation and civility and measuring our words carefully and not whipping people up into a frenzy, all the while advocating our views vigorously, I know Gabby will want the president and will want us to use this opportunity to bring the nation together and to, again, be the example of the kind of democracy that the Founding Fathers envisioned, and take the violent language, the violent symbolism and the violent rhetoric out of our discourse.

Then Smiley shifted into mocking gun rights and its backers in Arizona:

SMILEY: Speaking of Founding Fathers, they gave us the right to bear arms, and Arizonans love the right to bear their arms. The numbers are out and everybody's talking about it. The Monday following this shooting, gun sales in Arizona, up 60 -- six-zero -- percent from a year ago. Is that the answer?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I personally don't think arming ourselves is the answer. Again, as Gabby's friend, she is a gun owner, she supports the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but this is certainly not -- the response to this should not be arming ourselves to the teeth. The response to this should be for us to find a way to make our democracy better, to figure out how to disagree without turning our opponents into the enemy.

This was just a day before the Congresswoman went on CBS Evening News on Wednedsay night and talked about her daughter asking if Mommy was going to get shot by border-control fanatics:

After my daughter heard that, you know, Gabby had been shot, the first thing she asked me was, you know, 'Mommy, are you going to get shot? Does that mean you're going to get shot?' And then I, you know, did my best to reassure her, tell her, 'No, you know, Mommy takes precautions. You've been to my meetings. You know we have, we take steps to make sure that we're all safe.' But then the next thing she said to me was – and this is where you don't realize how closely they're watching – 'But Mommy, Florida's going to pass an immigration law like Arizona and then people are going to be mad at you.' You know, they're paying attention. The civil discourse is very important because it's not just – it's not just adults that – that this permeates. It's our children.

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