Bill O'Reilly Asks PBS Star Tavis Smiley on 'Poverty Tour' About His Hope to More Than Double the Minimum Wage

Never let liberals tell you that left-wingers never get any air time on Fox News. On Thursday night, Bill O'Reilly was honoring PBS host Tavis Smiley and his Marxist friend Cornel West by having them on to discuss their "poverty tour." He began by saying "I applaud you both."

But when he asked Smiley and West for specifics, it included more than doubling the federal minimum wage level (currently at $7.25 an hour):

O’REILLY; Let's get to your expertise. You guys are on a poverty tour across the country. And you know what? I applaud you both. I think that you guys are really doing a service and -- and you're very compassionate toward people who don't have very much. What do you think the minimum wage should be?

WEST: Well, if in fact the minimum wage have kept up with the changes over the last 40 years, it would be almost twice of what it is now. And when we look at the profits --

O'REILLY: So that's almost -- that's almost $20 an hour that you're asking for, about $20 an hour.

WEST: Well they say roughly. It could be between $16 and $21 or so; but of course we're also talking about -- can you imagine if small businesses were subsidized in the way Wall Street is subsidized and the free loans they have access to and what Fed was -- we're talking about private sector playing its role in relation to government. We're not calling for government programs at all.

After a little more discussion, Smiley agreed with the dramatic minimum-wage increase, to 16 bucks an hour: 

SMILEY: If we were to pay people -- if every business in the company -- in the country felt like you felt and paid them $16 an hour that would be a major, major start. Let's start there Bill.

O'REILLY: All right, ok. Now, do you have anything to add to the single mom scenario with two children in poverty, Doctor? Does society, the federal government, what else should they do --

WEST: Job training, job training, job training Bill.

O'REILLY: All right, so what if they don't want -- what if the mom says, I can't go to job training. I got two kids in the house.

SMILEY: Transportation. Transportation.

WEST: You know what I would do Brother Bill --

O'REILLY: All right, so you want the van to come, pick up the mom and the kids, and take them to job training. Is that -- is that what you want?

WEST: We would want quality education. We would want jobs with a living wage, we want child care for her children. And we want her to make sure they live in a neighborhood so they don't have drugs and guns coming in and out.

O'REILLY: All right, so you have the National Guard to come into the neighborhood and shake out the drug dealers?

WEST: No, it would -- no, it would be a community that would have jobs with a living wage, with decent housing and a quality school system.

O'REILLY: All right.

WEST: But you know what? But I think we have agree with this Brother Bill, you -- you definitely believe that that sister that you're talking about of whatever color, she has the same value as a human being as Donald Trump. Is that right? Do you agree?

O'REILLY: Absolutely I do. And I'm looking for solutions to poverty.

WEST: I wouldn't want -- no, but I would want our leaders, I would want our leaders to say that publicly and treat her with the same dignity that you treat Donald Trump or I treat Donald Trump.

O'REILLY: All right, I don't think -- I don't know if Trump deserves that kind of dignity. But all right, gentlemen, we'll continue the discussion and again, I applaud you guys for trying to help America's poor.

Smiley and West were also awarded 16 and a nalf minutes on Thursday on NPR's Talk of the Nation. The show's host, Neal Conan, asked a somewhat silly question about poverty: "Why is this issue for far under the radar, at least as far as the presidential campaign goes?" Answer: The Democrats don't want to focus on how the Democrats being in the White House for four years has actually sent poverty rates and food-stamp usage up dramatically. That's not Professor West said: "I think that we just don't have the kind of focus from the two parties on the issues of - that affect poor people."

NPR asked no conservative questions, unless you count doubt that a liberal campaign would win over voters:

NEAL CONAN: Tavis, if so many people now define themselves as lower class, if so many people are among those below the poverty line, that's a big voting bloc.

TAVIS SMILEY: It is a big voting bloc. And you would think, Neal, that it would make a lot of sense to both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama to stop talking just about - exclusively about the middle class and start to speak to the angst of 150 million Americans, 150 million, one out of two of us who's either now in or near poverty. Three groups make up the poor in this country, the perennially poor, the near-poor folk, who's just a paycheck or two away, Neal, and thirdly, the new poor, as we call him in our book, better known as the former middle class.

So just - it seems strategically sensible to me that you might want to start speaking to the angst of those who are falling through the social safety net as opposed to just believing or imagining, at least, that there is some amorphous middle class out there that is like it was 20, 30 years ago.

CONAN: But when you start to do that, you generally get accused of wanting to redistribute wealth, take it away from the wealthy and the middle class and give it to the poor. People start talking socialism and well, a lot of politicians don't win elections that way.

SMILEY: I don't buy that argument. I don't buy the argument that you can't make this argument work. When half of the nation, again, half of us, 150 million people was either in or near poverty, this is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It clearly - pardon my English, ain't black or white. Look at these poverty numbers that came out this week from the Census Bureau. Look at the dismal job numbers last week. This is an American catastrophe, Neal, that's about to be cemented. Poverty is threatening our democracy. Poverty is a matter of national security. And so I think you can actually make the argument and make it work.

The Democrats used the word poor or poverty three times for every 25,000 words at their convention, according to The New York Times. This might surprise you, Neal. The Republicans said the word poor or poverty five times for every 25,000 words. So interestingly, the Republicans at least gave greater lip service to word poor or poverty than the Democrats did, but I don't buy the argument that you can't sell this. You can sell this. You can sell to the American people that we've got to do something about the growing numbers of the poor if you make the argument.

You can also apparently sell the notion that a talk-show host on PBS can go on nationwide "anti-poverty" crusades from the Left against both parties, and then somehow claim PBS has no liberal tilt, whatsoever.

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