PBS's Tavis Smiley Replays Deeply Fawning Interview of Warren Christopher as a Eulogy

It’s not surprising that PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley would replay an old interview upon the death of Warren Christopher, Secretary of State in Bill Clinton's first term and chief hostage negotiator/Deputy Secretary of State to Jimmy Carter. On Monday night’s show, Smiley closed by quoting Clinton in tribute: “Warren Christopher had the lowest ratio of ego to accomplishment of any public servant I have ever worked with.”

Conservatives would quibble about how much Carter aides can boast about their management of the Iranian hostage crisis. But if Christopher had a small ego, the Smiley interview (rebroadcast from 2006) was a model of how blatantly a host can try to expand it through aerobic flattery. (Try the line “I’m going to consider myself one of your children.”) If PBS wonders why they’re branded as DNC-TV, take a look. Smiley began to bowing to Christopher’s very “dapper” fashion sense: 

SMILEY: Glad to have you. I went out and stepped up my game, got me a nice pinstriped suit, because I knew you were going to be on, and I figured -- I said before he walked out that this is, without question, the most dapper secretary of State we have ever had. I don't care what George Shultz says. (Laughs) So it's nice to have you on.

CHRISTOPHER: Thank you.

SMILEY: All right. Seriously, though, I wanted to have you on because, as I was saying to you before we came on the air, you have such a wealth of information, such a wealth of knowledge to share with the U.S., indeed the world, about diplomacy. And I wanted to have you on because that seems to be a word that has gotten lost or forgotten in Washington these days. I thought that if you and I could sit just for a few minutes and talk about diplomacy, as it were, we might add something to the conversation. So that said, thank you for accepting my invitation.

CHRISTOPHER: Good, good.

Then it came naturally, the Carter aide warning of the “arrogance” of GOP foreign policy, since Clinton’s constant apologizing for America… so successfully avoided crisis situations?

SMILEY: Let me start with whether or not you think I'm right about that, that somewhere along the way we have lost sight of what it means to engage in diplomacy.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I think over the last several years our sense of superiority, maybe even arrogance, has caused us to think that we didn't need to engage with countries who are our adversaries. I think that's a serious mistake. It's one of the things that the Iraq study commission pointed out very effectively. We need to talk to countries like Iran and Syria.

Running down Republican presidents? This is your tax dollars at work. Smiley worried out loud that George W. Bush was going to ruin completely our global diplomacy by not going soft enough on Iran and Syria:

SMILEY: That raises a very scary - I'm pausing here not because I'm lost but because I'm trying to figure how to phrase this delicately. I was in a conversation the other day with someone on this show, in fact, and we talked about this issue of public diplomacy, and I defined public diplomacy as, where we are concerned, as Americans having to sell or explain America to the rest of the world in a way that they get and understand.
If we take that as a definition, one could argue, given your point now, that Mr. Bush isn't cut out for public diplomacy. That at a point where we need to be engaged in the world right about now, given the mess that we're in, this isn't the guy to put out front as our diplomat in chief.

CHRISTOPHER: Well, I don't want to criticize the president, but I think there's a matter of attitude about this that's very important and I think he needs to convey the attitude to his administration that we need to be talking to these other countries. Otherwise, we're not going to get where we need to get. Tavis, it's important to talk to them about what the United States' interests are….

SMILEY: Is it possible to get to a point where your credibility in the world community or with a particular person, the situation gets so ugly, so nasty, so volatile, that you move beyond the point of diplomacy being able to work?

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, I suppose that's possible. We're not there yet with either of those countries.


There was nothing resembling a question from the right of Christopher. At the interview’s end, Smiley returned to the apple-polishing, honoring Christopher’s potpourri of writings on diplomacy, proclaiming “I’m in love with it now,” and then the line about children:

SMILEY: Let me ask you right quick - I was fascinated by this book. There's a little book, a little tiny book, but a powerful book called "Random Harvest" that you put out that includes some of your speeches and some of your beliefs about how to be effective at diplomacy. Tell me a little bit about this text, because I didn't know it existed, but I'm in love with it now.

CHRISTOPHER: Well, you're nice to say that. I just made a few speeches after I left being secretary of State and written some things, and I wanted to collect it in a place that it didn't just all disappear. That's what the little book is all about. It's quite an eclectic selection, as you probably can see. Doesn't have any major theme, you're not going to find how to solve American foreign policy in there, but I guess I wrote it for my children, so they could see what I was thinking about at this part of my life.

SMILEY: Yeah, well, I'll consider myself one of your children, then, because I've been reading with great interest and I'm glad you put this forth. You do this very seldom and I don't know when the last time I saw Warren Christopher sitting down for a conversation on television or radio, but I am honored to have you come on this program.

Earlier: Smiley tries to deny he called George W. Bush a "serial killer"

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