PBS's Smiley Doubles Down On Praise of 'American Hero' Edward Snowden

A few weeks ago, PBS host Tavis Smiley got in some hot water for comments he made about Edward Snowden. On January 19, Smiley appeared as a guest on ABC’s This Week w/ George Stephanopoulos and argued that, “Edward Snowden might be on a postage stamp somewhere down the road.”

Despite the controversy surrounding Smiley’s extreme comments, the PBS host took to his nightly program on February 4th to double down and argue that someday Snowden would be viewed not as a traitor but rather an “American hero.” [See video below.]

Smiley claimed that his comments “kicked off a huge viral sort of conversation” while at the same time he insisted that his comments were simply “tongue-in-cheek.” Smiley appeared almost gleeful at the firestorm he created online from conservatives who view Snowden not as simply a “whistleblower” but as a fugitive from justice and a traitor to the United States.  

As if that weren’t enough, Smiley decided to bring on Edwin Smith, a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) to sympathize with Snowden as someone who has been treated unjustly by the U.S. government. Smith went so far as to compare Snowden to liberal hero Daniel Ellsberg, infamous for leaking the classified Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971. The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret Pentagon report surrounding U.S. government decision-making during the conflict.

Smiley’s eagerness to repeat his offensive notion that an American traitor should be memorialized on a postage stamp as well as bringing on a guest who supports these extreme views expose how out-of-step the PBS host’s views are with the American public. What’s worse is that PBS, which is a taxpayer-subsidized network, openly pays the salary of a man who views Edward Snowden as an “American hero.” One wonders if most Americans would be happy subsidizing a network that promotes such anti-American commentary on a regular basis.  


See relevant transcript below.


Tavis Smiley

February 4, 2014

12:04 a.m. Eastern

TAVIS SMILEY: But the other part of that King quote as you well know that King took pride in breaking unjust laws, immoral laws, unethical laws. Just because it is the law, does not mean it is moral or ethical. Which takes us now to the comment President Obama made recently in his conversation with David Remnick at The New Yorker where he suggests that there was another way, that Edward Snowden could have done this differently. Now the president, for obvious reasons, is not going to give Mr. Snowden the respect that many believe he deserves even though it pushes Obama to the podium to say and do what he has already said and done rethinking how this program ought to work. But Snowden won’t get any credit for that from the president, I’m not naive, I’m not expecting that from the President of the United States. He’s the head of the empire, but there is no doubt about the fact that we wouldn’t be in this conversation were not for Edward Snowden. So is he a whistleblower or is he a traitor?

EDWIN SMITH: I saw an interesting piece this morning that he could be both. Not traitor, I would not call him a traitor, but is he a whistleblower and guilty at the same time? Is he acting in the public interest and guilty of violating the law at the same time? Absolutely.

SMILEY: But what is that other way? The president suggested a remedy in The New Yorker piece a couple days ago that there was another way to do this. What would be the other way? 

SMITH: Well if we think of The Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg gave the information to The New York Times and a member of the Senate, who read the Pentagon Papers on the floor of the Senate and, in that circumstance, was immune from any prosecution. So that it’s entirely possible. If there are members of the Senate, members of the Congress that Snowden believes would have supported him, he might have actually gone that way.

SMILEY: That’s a big if. It’s the same Congress, the same Senate that is wearing him out every day, and particularly there are Republican members of the Senate and the House who have started smearing him with these suggestions that he was working with other rogue nations perhaps. There has been no evidence of that to suggest, but it is not just Republicans who said that. Dianne Feinstein here out of California, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Democrat, has suggested that he may have been working with others. So when you have Democrats and Republicans making those suggestions, I asked again who would Snowden have turned too.

SMITH: There are individual senators who have come out supporting Snowden. And those individuals are the people you should be pursuing.

SMILEY: On the front-side how would he have known that? They say that now. But in part, politicians can say that when they see the winds blowing. When The New York Times and other papers come out and say we need to rethink how we are treating Edward Snowden and find a way to resolve this. So senators can get courage most easily after-the-fact. How would he have known on the front side that he had friends in the Senate? 

SMITH: To the extent that he has any access of what goes on in those Senate hearings. He could know who asked questions and who might be amenable to questioning the process that the government is undertaking in terms of collecting information. If he were serious about pursuing this, he may well have pursued it. The question is, did he ever even consider it seriously?

SMILEY: To your comment a moment ago, your reference to Dr. King who I’ve said many times as our audience knows, I regard him personally as the greatest American this country has ever produced. That is my own assessment. For a lot of different reasons, not the least of which is Martin King was willing to pay the price for his actions and indeed he paid the price, the ultimate price with his life, as we all know. I was on one of the Sunday shows a few weeks ago and said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, in fact the reference I made was to something that my co-panelist and I had been discussing in the green room. So David Remnick is there, James Carville, Mary Matilin. Peggy Noonan is there and I was on the show. So we’re in the green room kind of chucking it up before we get to the set for the live show with George Stephanopoulos. And I sort of made a joke, we made a joke in the green room that who knows how this story is going to end up. Years from now, I said Edward Snowden may end up on a postage stamp as an American hero. So on air, I reprieved that conversation we had somewhat tongue-in-cheek in the green room and lord all hell broke loose on the internet. Tavis Smiley suggested Edward Snowden might be on a postage stamp one day and it just kicked off a huge viral sort of conversation.

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