Message To Pacifica: Tavis Smiley and Cornel West Were Dropped for Good Cause

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[Open Letter To Pacifica Board]
Board of Directors,
Pacifica Foundation

I'm writing in response to the recent announcement that the Pacifica Foundation has appointed it's own chairman, Summer Reese, as Executive Director. Admittedly, at this point I know very little about Director Reese, but I intend to address that issue immediately, in order to gain a better understanding of what's going on within the organization that has caused it to become so far out of touch with what’s currently going on in the Black community.

Ms. Reese has started off her tenure as Executive Director the Pacifica Foundation by making one of the worst moves she could have ever made, at least, with respect to the Black community. By intervening in the Tavis Smiley/Cornel West controversy at radio station WBEZ she has clearly demonstrated that she is completely out of touch with the shifting sands in the Black community.

On the other hand, in discontinuing the services of Smiley and West, Torey Malatia at WBEZ, and the three other stations that took similar actions, clearly demonstrated that they have their finger on the pulse of what's going on in the community. So it is Director Reese who is out of touch with the rumblings within the community; not the people that she's criticizing.

Ms. Reese was quoted as saying: "It is disappointing when the term advocacy is used as a smear to trivialize the presentation of intelligent and passionate discussion that is sometimes critical of the American status quo." That quote alone demonstrates that Ms. Reese is missing the entire point.

Tavis and West have tried to preempt criticism by framing the issue in a way that suggests that their critics are merely upset because they’re criticizing President Obama and obviously Ms. Reese has bought into that nonsense --hook, line, and sinker.

But that's just nonsense. It's the very same kind of racist and condescending nonsense that the Republicans are arguing. The implication is Black people are so blinded by race that they don't have sense enough to know what's in their own best interest. Just the fact that Tavis and West would make such a degrading and condescending argument in their own defense speaks volumes about how they look upon Black people.

Many people in the Black community have criticized President Obama, just like we criticize any other president, including myself. I’ve written several articles criticizing  Obama but I made sure that they were always issue specific, respectful, and free of unsubstantiated innuendo.

So when it comes to Smiley and West, the issue that’s stirring many people in the Black community has absolutely nothing to do with attempting to stifle "intelligent and passionate discussion" as Ms. Reese suggests; the issue is, many believe that Smiley and West are exploiting their high profile in the Black community to promote personal vendettas and lucrative marketing campaigns without any regard to the fact that their activities are detrimental to the Black community’s interest as a whole.

Tavis Smiley's and Cornel West's activities in this election are identical to the activities of Ralph Nader's and Cornel West's in the 2000 election that got George Bush elected. So West is either deliberately trying to sabotage the Black community, or doesn't deserve to be given a public platform in the first place.

During the 2000 election Cornel West joined forces with Ralph Nader under the very same pretext -- "to stimulate vigorous and intelligent discussion."

But what did it get us? It got us eight years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and was directly responsible for placing America - and the Black community - in the very economic condition that West is currently complaining about. George W. Bush won the 2000 election by 537 votes. The Nader-West coalition peeled off 97,488 votes in Florida alone. So Cornel West is, literally, like a man who's dug a ditch, and is now complaining because Obama's not filling it in fast enough.

Yet, Ms. Reese is arguing that dropping these two constitute stifling "intelligent and passionate discussion"? Please be serious.

The fact is, it’s not what Tavis and West are saying that has the Black community up in arms, it’s why we suspect they're saying it. After all, couldn't they wait until after the election, and after we've made sure that we've protected the Black community and poor and middle-class America from corporate fascists. Why not have this "intelligent and passionate" discussion at that time?

But of course, Tavis and West would argue that once re-elected, President Obama wouldn't have the incentive to listen. But that's not true. Every president is concerned about his legacy. In addition, President Obama has two daughters who'll have to live with his legacy for the rest of their lives. Certainly the highly intellectual Cornel West recognizes this fact - doesn't he?

So what's so important for us to discuss at this particular time, that is worth sabotaging this election, and possibly, the future of America over? After all, it's not like we have a viable alternative to President Obama. Personally, I can't think of a thing, and neither can many others in the Black community. Then when you put that together with Tavis Smiley's all consuming penchant for promoting his own self-interests, and his close ties to Walmart, Nationwide Insurance, and other corporate interests, that leaves the Black community very suspicious of these two characters.

Tavis and West are experiencing a huge fall from grace in the community. Radio Station WBEZ pointed out that their listenership went from 37,900 to 13,200. That means that out of nearly 38,000 listeners, they lost nearly 25,000. That's a dramatic fall in listenership, and I'd say, that perfectly corresponds with their pronounced decline from grace in the Black community.

Tavis and West have become the new Amos 'n Andy of the Black community, and their trajectory is identical. They not only fail to represent Black interest, but they've become a major liability and embarrassment to many in the community. This will become more readily apparent as they begin to lose the major corporate sponsors currently propping them up -- corporations that make it their business to know what’s going on in the community.

Once these major corporations begin to see that these two have become liabilities rather than assets, they’re going to drop them like hot rivets. They probably already see it, but Tavis and West are still of marginal value - until after the election.

So while I have no idea what kind of Executive Director Reese is, her criticism of Torey Malatia, WBEZ, and the three other stations that dropped Smiley and West was a huge mistake. Because essentially what she's done is admonished these people for recognizing the condition of the Titanic, and then having the good sense to paddle away in lifeboats before the undertow could tarnish their brand and take them down along with the vessel.

Eric L. Wattree

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