Tavis Smiley: Bush Administration More Diverse than NPR

Howie Kurtz reports on the ugly divorce between National Public Radio and host Tavis Smiley:

In a series of interviews, he cast aspersions on his former employer, telling Time: “It is ironic that a Republican president has an administration that is more inclusive and more diverse than a so-called liberal-media-elite network.”

But NPR executives say Smiley simply would not negotiate after an agent delivered his demands. “We tried to meet, we tried to talk by phone,” says Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who represented NPR. “We were woefully unsuccessful. . . . I have been doing this 30 years, and I have never had an experience like this. I was disappointed because I wanted to make a deal, and more important my client wanted to make a deal.”

Says Smiley: “What NPR is apparently upset about is not that I would not negotiate, but that I wouldn’t acquiesce. I do not do my best work in chains and shackles. For black kids and brown kids yet unborn, I felt I had to say no. They were being disrespectful.”

Rather strong language. What is the nature of the racist disrespect shown by NPR?

Among what were viewed as unrealistic demands, says NPR spokesman David Umansky: Smiley wanted to tape the daily show a day early, which the network deemed impractical for a topical news show. Smiley wanted not only to own the program but to control the rebroadcast rights, which NPR says is a violation of its federal funding rules. And Smiley insisted on a $3 million promotion budget, which NPR found absurd since its entire advertising budget is $165,000 — 80 percent of which, executives say, was spent on Smiley’s program in each of the last two years. (NPR spent $138,000 last year on ads in Essence and Black Entertainment magazine.)

If these were indeed Smiley’s demands, “absurd” is a kind description. This is a show on a network that accepts no advertising, caters to a niche demographic, and relies on begging and federal subsidies for its existence. And, while Smiley is an engaging host who had made a name for himself on BET before coming to NPR, his show was hardly the network’s flagship. Indeed, the DC station (WAMU) broadcast the show starting, I believe, at midnight.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    Tavis takes himself seriously so we don’t have to.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    My local NPR station and I parted company over the Tavis Smiley Show. Actually, I don’t have problems with Smiley himself or most of his regular guests. But I just couldn’t allow my donations to support the repellent Cornel West or give him a platform from which to air his claptrap. There are some indignities up with which I will not put and that was the last straw.

  3. bryan says:

    Actually, NPR is right now awash in money thanks to the Kroc (?) donation, so much so that there’s a palpable tension between the local affiliates and the NPR network over fundraising and who gets to keep said funds. While NPR likes to play the poor host, it’s hardly a third-world broadcasting company. Just ask anyone who has to pay the annual rate to broadcast “A Prairie Home Companion” or “All Things Considered.”

  4. Anna S. says:

    I agree with Bryan,
    NPR did get a huge donation, and the fact that they’re very hush hush about it is weird. I think Tavis was pushing to see if they would move from their rut, they won’t because they don’t have to, and he’ll go get a show someplace where they will spend more that !40K to market a show.
    I have never contributed to NPR because while I enjoy a lot of the features they have, I will not support their politics. It seems they have become more humorless over the last four years, with more political coverage, less lovely features. Has anyone else noticed this?

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Actually, Anna S., I think they’ve moderated some over the years. I remember some time back during the Reagan Administration when they were called Radio Managua.

  6. Jon H says:

    I await Tavis Smiley’s announcement that, having shed the bonds of slavery, he is changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol.

    (Prince already did they whole “I’m a slave” thing.)

  7. Anna S. says:

    I guess a conservative president with an agenda
    and vision puts NPR in a funk. It’s disappointing that Tavis used the slavery thing it’s like quoting the Holocaust every time you disagree with somebody, it belittles what actually happend.