Tavis Smiley, a persistent critic of President Barack Obama, now claims that the White House is quietly and systematically wrecking his initiatives by pressuring corporate sponsors to drop their support for Smiley’s projects.
Smiley told the Associated Press that members of the Obama administration, whom he didn’t identify, have successfully convinced sponsors to stop funding Smiley’s ventures, including his anti-poverty initiatives.
“This administration does not like to be criticized. And the irony of it is, there’s nothing I have tried to hold the president accountable on that my white progressive colleagues have not,” Smiley told the AP. “They’re labeled courageous critics, but if I say it, I’m an ‘Obama critic.’ There’s race at play in the very question.”
Smiley, who is celebrating his 10th year on the air with PBS television, has also been traveling across the country on his so-called anti-poverty tour where he often criticizes Obama for not talking enough about poverty in America.
“I don’t have an anti-Barack agenda,” Smiley said, “but this is what I do: My job is to raise questions of accountability.”
But Tom Joyner, host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the Obama administration is strong-arming Smiley’s sponsors, adding that Smiley’s ratings are low and advertisers are jumping ship.
“Tavis, here’s the problem: Your sponsors are pulling out because you don’t have numbers,” Joyner told his listeners on Tuesday’s show. “That’s your problem. You don’t have a platform. You’re losing affiliates; you’re losing sponsors; not because someone is plotting against you.”
The White House had no comment about Smiley’s allegations, but Smiley’s claims seem especially shaky since he refuses to name the Obama administration officials who he claims are pressuring his sponsors.
So is the White House really overly concerned about Smiley’s criticism of the president? Do unnamed administration officials really spend their waking hours trying to silence Smiley by calling Smiley’s sponsors and threatening them? Does Smiley’s opinion of Obama trump the White House’s concern about putting more Americans back to work, helping to rebuild Moore, Oklahoma after a deadly tornado, and protecting citizens from terrorists?
Or does Smiley, as usual, have an inflated sense of his own self-value and a skewed view of his influence over the White House?
In a month where Republicans have accused Obama of everything imaginable –with the possible exception of Robert Griffin III’s knee injury — it seems that Smiley snagged a timely moment to pile on.
I would argue that the White House doesn’t care enough about Smiley to assemble a team of administration officials who would surreptitiously spend time thinking up new and creative ways to suppress Smiley’s voice.
And, truth be told, some radio executives aren’t listening to Smiley anymore either.
Last year, several public radio stations including Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Boston, cancelled Smiley’s radio show, “Smiley and West,” a radio program which also featured Princeton University Professor Cornel West.
“The show had developed much more of an ‘advocacy’ identity, which is inconsistent with our approach on WBEZ,” said a spokesman for the Chicago station WBEZ. “The goal is to present public affairs content that is reasonably balanced. We feel that Smiley & West had become a departure from this approach.”
Smiley says his self-imposed mandate in life is to hold Obama’s feet to the fire and keep him accountable to black people. That’s his choice and his path to follow, but I don’t believe there’s a clandestine campaign within the Obama administration that is secretly trying to shut Smiley down.
He’s just not that important.