Papers Honor 'Tenacious' Tavis Smiley for Ten Years on PBS, Downplay Controversy Over His Attacks on Obama

The Sunday Washington Post reprinted a sympathetic profile of PBS star Tavis Smiley from the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Tavis Smiley marks ten tenacious years on PBS". But reporter Scott Collins underplayed what may be the most interesting part: some public radio stations dumped his “Smiley & West” weekend radio show with radical professor Cornel West because he was too critical of Barack Obama.

Why didn’t Collins do a story on whether NPR station managers are canceling shows that dare to slam the president? Apparently, last year, Smiley complained to a reporter that Obama was "callous" in his relationship with blacks:

“Tragically, it seems the president feels boxed in by his blackness. It has, at times, been painful to watch this particular president’s calibrated, cautious and sometimes callous treatment of his most loyal constituency,” Smiley told Jodi Kantor of the Times by email. “African Americans will have lost ground in the Obama era.”

This is the most elaboration Collins provided: “More recently, he's angered some radio listeners with his criticisms of President Obama. In an interview with the New York Times, he suggested in 2012 that Obama is "boxed in by his blackness" and often treated black people callously. The comments led several public radio stations to dump his program. Smiley has remained unapologetic about his views.”

Chicago Public Media and three other stations didn't like Smiley's "advocacy" and dumped his show.  Smiley replied that he was not a journalist like the network stars: “I am not Brian Williams, Bob Schieffer, Scott Pelley, or Diane Sawyer. I am not trying to be a journalist.”

Collins didn't want to dwell on Smiley being controversial. He wrote in the profile that it wasn’t time for a “pity party,” but that was the sound of the profile. Poor Tavis had to switch stations after his Los Angeles home departed PBS, and the fundraising is hard:

"It's getting harder and harder to make this stuff work," he said. "Every week, I'm beating my head against a wall, trying to raise money."

....Such is the life of a public-television personality. Unlike most TV hosts, who simply do their jobs and collect a paycheck from a network, Smiley has to go out and raise most of the money for his program, which costs between $7 million and $8 million a year to produce. PBS generally contributes about $1 million of that sum. The rest comes from corporate sponsors, which Smiley has to round up himself....

"What you're hearing from him is someone who's tired of being out looking for money all the time," said Paula Kerger, the president and chief executive of PBS who added that the network renewed "Tavis Smiley" because it values the host's views. "He adds another perspective."


Smiley’s just another PBS leftist. He doesn’t “add another perspective.” He does add a different skin color, and you can tell Smiley uses that appeal. He does it in this article: “He relishes being one of the few African Americans on NPR and PBS (‘It doesn't get any whiter than PBS,’ he is fond of saying).”

It was easy to see Scott Collins dropping all skepticism as he wrote, “As one of the most recognizable black media personalities in America, he's sufficiently well-known that next year he's due for his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”

Being well-known isn’t what gets you on the Walk of Fame: it simply takes a $30,000 payment to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Even shows airing on NPR have reported how you buy your way to a star.

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