PBS Host Tavis Smiley Hits Both Bernie and Hillary With Radical-Left Anti-Clinton Quote

Just how leftist is PBS? When late-night host Tavis Smiley interviewed the Democratic candidates for president this week, he read them both a jeremiad attacking the Clintons from The Nation magazine claiming that welfare reform and the crime bill of 1994 “decimated black America” and the Clintons failed to stand up to "the right-wing demagoguery about black communities."

This may be the harshest set of questions Hillary Clinton has allowed to be spoken in her presence in this cycle. He began with Hillary on Tuesday:

SMILEY: So, obviously, the media is focused on how well you're going to do with African American voters. There's no doubt about the fact you have lined up the Black establishment pretty much in favor of your candidacy. Here is a quote from the article I'm sure you saw that Michelle Alexander wrote, author of The New Jim Crow, the article in The Nation magazine, for those who want to read it if you haven't read it. It's in The Nation magazine, the February 10 issue.

The headline was "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote. From the crime bill to welfare reform policies, Bill Clinton enacted and Hillary Clinton supported, decimated black America."

Here's the quote. "What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risk to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to the rightwing demagoguery about Black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work? No. Quite the opposite."

She makes the argument and Bernie Sanders last night on this program agreed with her that you may be winning the Black vote at the moment, but you don't deserve the Black vote. How do you respond to that?

Smiley also wasn’t impressed that Mrs. Clinton’s tactic of embracing Obama to gain black votes, since he's perpetually complained Obama wasn't enough of a president for the black people:

SMILEY: His historic election notwithstanding, the data is clear about this, that black folk have lost ground in every major economic category over the last 10 years. So where that particular community is concerned, where you’re headed to South Carolina, tell me how you’re going to serve differently than Barack Obama. Because whatever his intentions were, we didn’t get it done for black people economically.

When Hillary replied that the financial crisis could be blamed on Bush and “trickle-down economics” and deregulation, Smiley shot back “Respectfully, deregulation didn’t start when the Republicans took over in 2000 when Bush came into office. Deregulation started in the Clinton era of Wall Street and many people have made that point time and time again in this campaign. Was it a mistake for your husband then to deregulate Wall Street?”

Smiley allowed that Obama also failed to put Wall Street figures in jail:

SMILEY: But it’s also true, though, with respect to President Obama and Eric Holder–I like both of them. Eric Holder didn’t go after anybody in terms of criminal charges and now he’s working for Wall Street. You take money from them, but nobody on Wall Street who wrecked this country, brought it to its knees, has paid a price except for a financial price and then they write half of that off on their taxes.

CLINTON: Well, you’re not going to get an argument from me on that. But, you know, I have the highest regard for Eric Holder. I’ve known him for a long time.

SMILEY: I do too, except on this issue. He missed the ball on this one, yeah.

The interview ended strangely, since Smiley began with how the Clintons “decimated black America.” Despite all that rhetoric, he loves Slick Willie: “I got many more questions, but you got places to go and I’m out of time anyway, except for this one last question, which is about your husband, Bill Clinton. I love Bill Clinton.” Hillary replied “So do I.” Smiley said “you’re fortunate to have him, I think. But I wonder whether or not there is any concern that down the road in word or deed, he might become a distraction.”

Hillary claimed it was all upside: “He’s been very generous and loving in all of his comments about me and why he thinks I’m a change-maker and what I can do for people. I consider him a 100% positive asset to my campaign.”

When Smiley read the Michelle Alexander quote to Bernie Sanders on Monday night, he added: "Let me ask you directly. Hillary Clinton may be winning the black votes. She may have won it in Nevada. Does she deserve the black vote?" Sanders said no: "Well, I think, if you look at her record and her agenda, if you look at my record and my agenda, what we are proposing, I think in fact we should receive a majority of black votes, and I’ll tell you why."

Smiley then said he was horrified that Rep. John Lewis ripped Sanders as not belonging to the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Smiley felt Sanders should be using a Martin Luther King-style radical argument against Hillary:

SMILEY: So you don’t need campaign advice from me, and this is not advice. It is a question and maybe it is to come on the debate stage in South Carolina. But I’ve been waiting and wondering why you have not, when this debate comes up about the civil rights movement and about Dr. King, etc., etc., King talked all the time about the triple threat facing this democracy, as you well know.

Racism, poverty, and militarism. Why have you not gone after the Clinton campaign on the debate stage using King’s words? Why not grade her on a Kingian scorecard? Racism, poverty, and militarism? Michelle Alexander and you have both just made the case where they come up short on racism and on poverty, for that matter. Militarism is a clear issue. Why not go after her specifically by using King as a scorecard if you’re going to play the black voters?

Smiley mildly relayed the criticism (within the Democratic bubble) that Sanders is too radical and idealistic to get much accomplished, but he insisted he didn't agree with that at all.

SMILEY: I quoted someone on this program last week talking about you. They said, “I love Bernie Sanders, but he sounds like Oprah Winfrey. “A free car for you, a free car for you, a free car for you.”

SANDERS: Well, let me deal with those…

SMILEY: How you going to pay for all this, Senator Sanders?....

SANDERS: What are my radical ideas? I want to see the United States joining the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all people. I live 50 miles away from Canada, Tavis. They do it. They guarantee health care to all people. Quality is strong, they spend substantially less per capita than we do. I want to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Germany does it, Scandinavia does it. In the year 2016, we’ve got to have the best educated workforce in the world. That means making public education extending…

SMILEY: They might not be–I don’t mean to cut you off again. They might not be radical ideas. I don’t think they’re radical at all. I agree with everything you’ve just said on a personal level, if you’re asking me.

This could be the network motto. "PBS: Where Bernie Sanders isn't seen as radical at all." This is the same conversation Sanders had with Charlie Rose on PBS a few months ago.

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