Tavis Smiley Gives The Nation Magazine a Megaphone on PBS

Here’s more proof PBS is a sandbox for the left: The featured interview right now on the website of the Tavis Smiley show on PBS is a June 30 conversation with hard-left journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has worked for a while for the radical-left Pacifica Radio network and now also works for the leftist Nation Institute. Scahill’s written a book critical of Blackwater, the private security firm, and Smiley demanded that President Obama shut them down and asked Scahill to chat up the latest legislation from the hard left in Congress (Jan Schakowsky in the House, Bernie Sanders in the Senate). Smiley highlighted how much he likes to "showcase" investigative reporting like you can read in The Nation.

SMILEY: If we have a military that is trained to do the same thing that Blackwater is trained to do, and when they misbehave, because they're part of the military they can be brought to justice, which is the American way -- pardon the pun. Why would a guy like President Obama not be able to shut this thing down? If everything you're saying in this book about Blackwater is true, why would a guy who believes in human rights, et cetera, et cetera, who wants change we can believe in, not shut something like this down?SCAHILL: Not just that. As I said, Obama has been a leader on this issue. Here's the fact of the matter, though, Tavis. The U.S. military does not want to do this job. The U.S. military does not want to put soldiers in a position -- SMILEY: Since when do they do what they want to do? (Laughter) They do what the commander in chief tells them to do.SCAHILL: Well, if Obama wanted to do that it would be a departure from recent U.S. military history. Obama may decide ultimately that the risk is greater for using these companies than to have the military do something that it says it ultimately doesn't want to do. But the reason why the military doesn't want to do it is not because the U.S. military can't do it, it's because they don't want to put soldiers in regular conflict with Iraqi civilian vehicles.

Scahill added that it might take two to three years to train up government employees to replace Blackwater, but that didn’t deter Smiley from demanding "righteous" progressive alternatives:

SMILEY: Okay, so humor me here. What would be, since the military, for its reasons, doesn't want to do it, although we are in a war that they are in charge of leading, what would be the alternative to it? I've got this dense text in front of me telling me everything wrong with Blackwater, and yet I don't hear what the alternative with be -- a righteous alternative would be to a Blackwater.SCAHILL: Well, there is legislation, which unfortunately Obama is not supporting, that was brought forth by Representative Jan Schakowsky in the House, who probably has been the best person in the Congress on this, and Bernie Sanders in the Senate. It's called the Stop Outsourcing Security Act. This would seek to ban the use of these companies for mission-critical activities in Iraq or any U.S. warzone, and to essentially phase them out in a period of six to nine months and attempt to replace them with fully burdened and accountable U.S. government employees.

At the end of the interview, as Scahill was asked to describe the profiteering of Blackwater, Smiley joked he was in the wrong business, and Scahill announced that journalism was much more noble than protecting our diplomats:

SCAHILL: We know they've made $1 billion off of Iraq, we know that they've made millions and millions of dollars off of their work with various agencies of the federal government, and they were in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They made $70 million off their operations there in New Orleans. When people desperately needed food, water, and rescue, what they got instead were private soldiers from Blackwater pulling in $950 per man per day on the federal payroll.SMILEY: I think you and I are in the wrong business. (Laughter) SCAHILL: I think we're in a business that's much more noble.SMILEY: Yeah, I'll take that.SCAHILL: Thank you, Tavis, for all the work.SMILEY: Thank you. No, thank you for the work you're doing. I'm glad that people like Jeremy Scahill are around to do the kind of investigative journalism that we can showcase on this show but don't have the resources to do. So I'm glad that Jeremy's here.

On the same evening, Smiley interviewed Curtis Watkins, a local District of Columbia activist, about the Supreme Court overturning the District’s gun ban. Smiley demonstrated a blithe disregard for the failure of gun control to keep crime down as he looked at causes for local violence:

D.C. has the, as we all know by now, the strictest gun control laws in the country, before this Supreme Court ruling, of course, the strictest gun control laws in the country, in part because crime in D.C. has been out of control for some time. Is it your sense that there's something specific, something unique, something different about the nation's capital that causes this crime to be out of control where young folk are concerned, or is it your sense that this is true with young people, unfortunately, all across the nation?

From there, Smiley moved on to painting a very negative picture of what would happen next in Washington, an "arms race in the nation’s capital":

SMILEY: But I'm concerned about something a little different, which is whether or not you think - and I could be totally off-base on this - but whether or not you think that as one particular part of the community arms itself - let's call that the negative part of the community.As they arm themselves, the bad people, I wonder whether or not the good people in Washington will feel the need to arm themselves since it is law now and they can have a gun. I wonder whether or not they'll feel the need to arm themselves to protect themselves from the bad guys, so that everybody in D.C. ends up with a gun and it's like the Wild, Wild West. WATKINS: Exactly, and the people in the community, the ones who are doing the wrong thing, they're smart enough to know that if the greater community is arming themselves, they need to arm themselves even more. So as you just said, the Wild, Wild West.SMILEY: So you got an arms race in the nation's capital. WATKINS: Exactly, and I'm praying and hoping that it doesn't come to that, but let's be real about it. The people in the community know if I go up in someone's house and they're armed, I need to be just as well armed.

Will Smiley interview NRA chief Wayne LaPierre for fairness and balance? I wouldn't count on it.

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