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.