PBS's Smiley Asks Michael Moore If Obama Sees the 'Venom, Vitriol, Vulgarity' of the Right

PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley interviewed Michael Moore on Monday night, and it wasn’t hardball time. Smiley asked: “What about growing up in Flint allowed you, moved you, in the direction of being the humanist that you are?” He also explicitly compared Moore to Martin Luther King, both seeking a “vocation of agony.”

But Smiley stayed true to his record of whacking President Obama from the left, asking Moore if he is finally seeing the light about “the venom and the vitriol and the vulgarity of the enemy that he’s up against?” Smiley isn't looking in the mirror. He means the conservatives.

SMILEY: People make decisions to change course for one of two reasons, it seems to me, either because they see the light or because they feel the heat. So it's campaign season. Has the president really seen the light about the venom and the vitriol and the vulgarity of the enemy that he's up against? Has he seen the light or is he feeling the heat because it's election time?

MOORE: We missed each other today on the phone back and forth, the president and I, so I don't really know how he's feeling about this. [Laughs]  But I'll take a stab at it and say that I think he might have started to see the light.

Later in the interview, Smiley nudged Moore into repeating his line about how his Oscar speech bashing Bush as a “fictional president” elected with "fictional election results" who went to war for "fictitious reasons" led to death threats, thanks to Fox News and talk radio. That venom, he said, was “really being stoked a lot by hate radio, by people who were then or now or have been Fox News hosts, people like Glenn Beck, people like Bill O’Reilly making a joke about I don’t believe in the death penalty unless it’s for Michael Moore and Glenn Beck fantasizing about killing me. You put that out over the airwaves and there are gonna be those individuals who, you know, are not well and so I had to bear the brunt for a number of years."

This led to Smiley comparing Moore (and himself) to MLK:

SMILEY: Dr. King used many great phrases, but one of my favorites describing the kind of work that you do and the kind of work I try to do and others around this country and the world, he called this work a vocation of agony, a vocation of agony, which leads me to ask whether one likes or loathes Michael Moore, loves or hates Michael Moore, one ought not to be subject to that kind of hatred and that kind of death threat. How have you stayed then, Michael, committed to your cause? How do you stay in touch with the humanity of other people when one is subjected to that kind of response to your work?

MOORE: Well, that’s a good question. You know, the last time I was on your show, I think I alluded to the fact that I didn’t know whether I really should continue to do this because I didn’t know whether it was worth it to put myself or my family through this sort of attack. I don’t mean just the attack of the debate. I’m literally talking about physical attack.

I think where I’m at right now is that we all have to do our part. I’ll make sure that I will never use that kind of language when I talk about the people that I disagree with. I’ve never uttered the words “I hate George W. Bush,” for instance. I would never say that partly because I don’t feel it. I don’t hate the man. I don’t want to be down in that gutter. I don’t want the debate to be down there either. I want us to have the discussion.

There you have it. Michael Moore never said he hated Bush. He only suggested he was a fictional president leading a fictional war. That's not "down in that gutter," apparently. Smiley suggested Obama was not as brilliant as his media promoters insist:

SMILEY: A couple more Obama questions and I want to get right to the text. The Tea Party notwithstanding, and you’ve been very clear about how you feel about them and their tactics, how much of this has to do with the president having assembled the wrong team? Before you answer that, I want to just tweak this a little bit so people don’t think I’m naive.

Speaking of naive, I’ve always rejected the naivete that’s found in that assessment because you can’t tell me that Barack Obama is brilliant. He can’t be all that and then be suckered by a team of people around him. Those two things to me can’t coexist. Having said all of that, how much of this, to your mind, has to do with having assembled the wrong team?

MOORE: He’s not dumb. He is brilliant. He knew exactly what he was doing starting with the economic advisors, putting Larry Summers and Tim Geithner into office there. If you want to accept that assumption that he’s a pretty smart guy, then you then have to ask a more difficult question: is this in fact how he really thinks?

Does he really not think the banks are really such a bad entity in this country, that Wall Street really isn’t to blame? And the reason he’s been so soft on them is because he believes in them? If that’s the case, then we have a much deeper problem that we have to deal with here.    

Smiley was more anti-Obama than our news media, since he was tempted to blame Obama for the new Census Bureau data showing deepening poverty: "These poverty numbers of late have just been – it’s a national disgrace, quite frankly. What say you about the fact that these numbers have grown? He inherited a mess, to be sure, but these numbers have grown under his presidency and now we have – well, let me stop." Moore had no blame for Obama.

On that subject,Smiley touted that his summer anti-poverty tour with radical-left professor Cornel West would get a five-day airing on his PBS show in October:

A quick programming note here. Since Michael and I are talking about poverty, as you may have heard or read, I was on a poverty tour earlier this summer with my friend, Dr. Cornel West, all across the country, nine states, 18 cities, talking about poverty for all races, colors and creeds in this country. We are going the week of October 10 through the 14th, a full week, five nights, I think the first time on national television in this country that an entire show for a full week has focused in on poverty in America, “The New Face of Poverty.”

Again, for an entire week, October 10 through 14, on this show every night talking about poverty and bringing you footage of those travels this summer as we went across the country talking to people about poverty in America.

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