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Tavis Smiley and Cornel West Show Dropped at Chicago PBS Due to Lack of "Balance"

by Robert FederTime Out Chicago

WBEZ president Torey Malatia stated the show had an "advocacy identity" and was becoming more like Democracy Now. Some say the problem was the show's critical stance on Barack Obama was not liberal enough. Obama hails from Chicago. Take action now. Send an email to Mr. Malatia at tmalatia@wbez.org. Web form at: http://www.wbez.org/user/169/contact

Here's some suggested text:

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are among the most prominent and credible African-American voices in the country. Their program is a source of strength and inspiration to many, especially in Chicago a city with a huge non-white population.

Intelligent and informed liberal and left-wing discourse is rare in the United States media and it is troubling in the extreme that PBS would make it worse.

It is your responsibility to air the full range of public affairs and perspectives and Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are a vital piece of the public dialogue, especially as we approach a presidential election.

Please reverse this shameful decision so we can be proud of PBS again for its service to the public in airing thoughtful programs that provide the full gamut of views and perspectives on the news of the day.

I support PBS. But I will have trouble doing so in the future if it cannot make space for Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.

The news is not objective. The mainstream media is not balanced. The mandate of PBS is to do better than corporately-owned for profit media monopolies.


Coverage from Time Out Chicago

Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi aren’t the only recent realignments to Chicago Public Media’s weekend programming. Citing concerns about fairness and balance, WBEZ-FM (91.5) has dropped the weekly talk show hosted by Tavis Smiley, the PBS late-night interviewer, and Dr. Cornel West, the Princeton University professor.

Distributed by Public Radio International, Smiley & West had been airing at noon Sundays on WBEZ before it was canceled at the end of September.

A Chicago Public Media spokesman cited audience erosion for the move, adding: “More importantly, the show had developed much more of an ‘advocacy’ identity, which is inconsistent with our approach on 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.”

In explaining the decision to PRI, Torey Malatia, president and CEO of Chicago Public Media, said the show was “becoming like Democracy Now," and veering too far from WBEZ’s declaration of principles. Here is the part of the declaration Malatia quoted:

“Our hosts choose material to inspire cross-cultural understanding and civic engagement, strictly operating under the mandate of public service. Even when our function is not a journalistic one, we recognize that appearing to take sides, or to prefer certain voices to others, will erode our value as a meeting place for all. We attempt to do all of this at a level of energy and creative influence that the visionaries of civic agency had written about since radio’s creation.”

Producer Joe Zefran said he believes Smiley & West had a large following in Chicago, citing hundreds who turned out for live events in the past year, and more than 1,000 who braved a thunderstorm last year to attend a gathering at St. Sabina's Church. “More time was spent taking questions from the audience, including those who disagreed with them,” Zefran said. “Not sure how that doesn't serve the needs of the audience.”

But he acknowledged that WBEZ was not alone in its action. WBUR-FM in Boston dropped the show earlier this year for being “too political,” and KWMU-FM in St. Louis and KMOJ-FM in Minneapolis dropped it last year, citing pressure from listeners for Smiley and West’s controversial and outspoken views of President Obama.

Smiley and West are the authors of The Rich and the Rest of Us, a bestseller based on their 2011 “Poverty Tour” highlighting the plight of the impoverished.