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Profile: Tavis Smiley

Tavis Smiley was a participant or observer in the following events:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh encourages an African-American caller who describes liberalism as “a form of mental illness” that is “actually a type of rebellion against God and virtue through the justification of… immorality, things like abortion, homosexuality, promiscuity, prostitution, racism, even race-centered thinking.” Limbaugh restates the caller’s comment, saying: “So liberalism is a mental illness. It’s borne of people that do not like any judgmentalism against their depravity.” The caller, identified only as “Eric from Charlotte, North Carolina,” then describes black civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, black radio hosts Tavis Smiley and Tom Joyner, Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), and “all of the Democratic delegation up there in Congress… the Ted Kennedys (D-MA),” and “anybody who’s in the leadership position in the Democratic Party” as “pimps” who attempt to deceive black people into remaining on the “Democratic plantation,” and says Democrats suffer from “the slave, slave master, slave-liberator mentality.” Democratic leaders are “all mentally ill,” he continues, and tells Limbaugh: “The Bible actually calls them ‘fools’ because they’re rebelling against virtue and God. Now, I’m not calling them fools, I’m just saying the Bible calls them fools.” Limbaugh encourages the caller, saying, “If the Bible can call them fools, you can echo the Bible,” to which the caller replies, “I’m calling them fools through the Bible.” Republicans and “those on the religious right… are the preachers and the liberators trying to tell the truth about what the Democratic leadership—the Democrats are doing to black people.” Limbaugh rewards the caller with a free year’s subscription to his Web site. [Media Matters, 10/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Tom Joyner, Charles Rangel, Jesse Jackson, Tavis Smiley, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly denies there were ever any racial connotations to the “birther” controversy surrounding President Obama’s US citizenship. On his show The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly notes that many “defenders of Obama labeled the whole thing racist,” and plays clips from MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, The View’s Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg (see April 27, 2011), MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, and BET host Tavis Smiley, many of them focusing on billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump and his pronouncements (see April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). O’Reilly’s guests, Fox analyst Alicia Menendez and Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, join in denouncing what Hoover calls “the most predictable” reactions imaginable from “the entire left.” Hoover says that liberals always cry “racist” when they want to criticize conservatives. Hoover does admit that Trump’s claims that Obama got into Ivy League schools due to affirmative action, and the “widespread movement to delegitimize the president to say he’s not American enough (see April 27, 2011), I think it’s not unrelated to race.” O’Reilly disagrees, saying that questions about Obama’s college career are different from “calling him out because of his skin color.” Trump may be “stoking the discomfort that some people have with [Obama’s] skin color,” Hoover says, a remark that draws a snort of derision from O’Reilly, who says he knows Trump well and does not believe he is a racist. Menendez, described by an on-screen chyron as a member of a “center-left think tank,” agrees with Hoover that some of the comments and charges leveled by “birthers” may aggravate the racial tensions that exist in America today. O’Reilly cuts her off and says he does not see “any of these racial confrontations in this country, and I do this every day.” He demands proof of her contention. “I’m not saying it’s just about Barack Obama,” Menendez says, “I’m saying it’s generally about people trying to figure out what to do with this change in America.” Menendez says that there is “some intertwining” between the birther controversy and racist attitudes, but calls the comments by Schulz and others “very radical and obscure the conversation we should be having.” O’Reilly calls the charges of racism “vicious,” and presses for agreement from both Hoover and Menendez. Menendez attempts to qualify, calling the charges a response to “a vicious and hateful thing coming out of the right. And there were very few people like you who were being honest and calling it what it was.” O’Reilly says that the “bad behavior” from the right does not justify “bad behavior” from the left. He says the charges that “the birth certificate was phony” had no connection to racism at all, and continues to lambast “the left” for trying to tie racism into the controversy. Menendez asks if O’Reilly believes that “it was just coincidental” that Obama, the first African-American president, was targeted as not “being a real American” by right-wing opponents. “That’s just a weird coincidence,” she says. O’Reilly says the entire controversy was “borne out of hatred for the man.… The people who hate Barack Obama will latch on to anything. It’s not because of his skin color.” O’Reilly concludes that the “far left” did not act “in a responsible way” in challenging the controversy “as we did [presumably referring to his show]. We just took it apart” (see July 29, 2009). [Media Matters, 4/28/2011] An Associated Press analysis has found that the “birther” controversy was fueled in large part by racism (see April 27, 2011), and liberals (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 28, 2011), moderates (see April 27, 2011), and conservatives (see April 27, 2011) alike have decried the racism at the heart of “birtherism.” Author John Avlon has said that “birthers” will never give up their conspiracy theories because even Republicans who disbelieve the claims and do not themselves harbor racist beliefs will not denounce the claims and the racism behind them (see April 28, 2011). Some conservative media outlets, including Fox News, are launching a new series of attacks on Obama through his father, vilifying the senior Obama because of his alleged “penchant” for “white women” (see April 28, 2011, April 29, 2011, and April 29, 2011). And conservative radio host Laura Ingraham says the release of the “long form” certificate “proves” Obama intends to make his re-election bid about race (see April 28, 2011).

Entity Tags: Edward Andrew (“Ed”) Schultz, Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Alicia Menendez, Donald Trump, Whoopi Goldberg, Fox News, Margaret Hoover, Bob Schieffer, John Avlon, Jonathan Alter, Joy Behar, Laura Ingraham, Tavis Smiley

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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