Black People : Tavis Smiley's Reply To Bob Johnson...


Well-Known Member
Feb 3, 2001
New York
(March 27, 2001)
Tom Joyner Morning Show

Good morning Tom, Sybil and J.!

I had planned to make only one statement about this matter - the one I made last Thursday - and that was one more than I wanted to make. Consequently, you have not seen me quoted anywhere on this subject matter outside of my initial comments last Thursday morning. I really do hope that this is the absolute last word from me on this matter...

Thursday morning I stated publicly that I would in fact, out of loyalty and appreciation to my staff, honor my contract with BET and continue to host BET Tonight to the best of my ability until September, or until such time as Viacom and BET decided to pull the trigger on my show. Little did I know last Thursday morning that within 36 hours the plug would in fact be pulled, and in such bold and dramatic fashion...

To say I was shocked by the news of my immediate termination last Friday evening would be the mother of all understatements. But alas, Viacom and Mr. Johnson have spoken - and to be sure, we in Black America have heard them. Loud and clear.

I choose not to get into a tit-for-tat public fight with Mel Karmazin and Bob Johnson. And so, this morning, I refuse to address any of the questionable statements made about me last evening on BET by Mr. Johnson during his unprecedented appearance on the network to address the dismissal of an employee.

There are, however, a few things Mr. Johnson said last night that I feel obligated to address briefly for the record. And I will do so momentarily. But first, let me be clear: I will not...Tom will not...we will not be participants in some public spectacle for the enjoyment and entertainment of Viacom or anyone else.

This will not be Black radio vs. Black television; this is not Tavis and Tom vs. Bob Johnson. We are not Holyfield; he is not Tyson; and Mel Karmazin is no Don King! What's next? Ebony vs. Essence? The very thought of this kind of Black-on-Black verbal nihilism sickens me. Black America can ill-afford this kind of wretched public display of Black-on-Black character assassination and personal destruction.

Having said that, I must confess that I remain deeply troubled by the fact that Viacom and Mr. Johnson would rather go "live" on television and attempt to explain to Black America why my show was cancelled and why I was later dismissed immediately and without cause; without ever letting ME know their answers to these questions. I learned of their rationale, or the lack thereof, at the same time and in the same way as you did - over television just last night!

Now again, during his one-hour appearance on BET last evening Mr. Johnson talked about some of everything; I do not have the time or quite frankly the interest in responding to every comment made. I'm just not compelled to do so. But I do, once again, feel obligated for the record to address two issues that were raised last night.

Issue One:

The ABC News broadcast of my exclusive interview with ex-SLA fugitive Sara Jane Olson.

First, my contract with BET allowed me to appear on and produce for other media outlets (both cable and network) programming of my choice through my production company. My contract did not require a first look or first right of refusal by BET; only that whenever and wherever I appeared, the network had to identify me as BET talent...

Second, the Olson interview was an investigative news piece costing well into six figures to produce. Unprecedented at BET. Not to mention that the Olson interview did not fit my BET Tonight format or for that matter, any other show format on BET. Thirdly, Olson is a white woman who approached me respectful of my interview skills and style, but also hoping to get broad exposure. As part of the negotiation process to land this interview on network television, my representatives, operating in good faith, made BET's sister network CBS (also owned by Viacom) aware of our exclusive. For whatever reason, CBS passed and a deal was struck with ABC.

I find it curious that Mr. Johnson would move to dismiss me for selling one interview featuring a white woman to another network, when BET refused to broadcast either of our historic Black Think Tank symposiums which so many of you watched on C-SPAN. I love C-SPAN, but know that we went there after BET passed on our proposals. Finally, I find it even more curious that Mr. Johnson would move to dismiss me for selling one interview featuring a white woman to a white company, when he sold the entire network to a white company...

Issue Two:

With regard to Mr. Johnson's allegation of Tom Joyner spreading misinformation, my response is simple: If Bob Johnson still owned BET, Tom would have referred the calls to him. Tom Joyner is a truth-teller. Viacom does own BET. But I digress...

As for me, it is time to move on. To find and create new ways to fulfill my passion and my purpose. And that, brothers and sisters, has not changed in the least bit - to continue to use whatever talent God has blessed me with to help enlighten, encourage and empower Black people; to do my part to help make Black America better.

When we make Black America better, we make all of America better. And to that end, there is much work to be done, and we all have to enlist in the fight to redeem and save the soul of Black America. As the old gospel hymn declares: "We are soldiers in the army, we have to fight although we have to cry. We have to hold up the blood-stained banner, we have to hold it up until we die." I will continue to represent, if not on BET. Black America must continue the conversation as we develop our action plan for 2002, and so get ready for our next Black Think Tank symposium.

Because this hip-hop generation is the first generation of Black Americans to assume the reigns of leadership, responsibility and authority in our community without having a first-hand perspective of what the movement, the struggle was all about - we will continue our Youth To Leaders leadership development seminars through the Tavis Smiley Foundation in big cities and small towns all across the country.

The question of what happens to me pales in comparison to the question of what happens to Black America twenty, thirty, fifty years down the road with a generation of us trying to lead the way, unable to compare the before and the after picture of Black life in America. All we know is the after picture. This cataclysmic shift in the leadership of our community which has never had leaders not born of struggle, opens up a Pandora's Box - the consequences of which we have yet to begun to consider. Oh, we've got work to do, and I'm ready to get back to it.

I've been told that one person suggested that following this ordeal no network would be interested in touching an opinionated, progressive Black man. I've been told that I may be labeled as "difficult to work with" by certain folk. In fact, Mr. Johnson virtually said so last evening.

In my entire broadcast career working with many different media companies, this is the first time I have ever heard such nonsense. People don't pack up, pick up and proceed to move across the country to continue working with a guy who's "difficult to work with." That's what my production staff did, and I remain grateful.

All I can say is this: I have no interest in working for anyone - Black or White - who blatantly disregards and disrespects Black people. And just know that when I do reappear on television, it will be with a media company that I feel shares the ideals that I have advocated and one that respects me and my people.

Until you see me again, I encourage you to continue to advocate (as we will on this program) for television that honors us, not whores us; television that entertains and empowers us; television that informs and uplifts us. I intend to turn my pain into power and I trust that you will trust your angst into action.

You know, life is like a heart monitor. We will all have our ups and downs, and that's alright. Just don't let it flat-line on you! In all our lives we have setbacks and challenges, but I've learned something - if you do not give up, you cannot fail!

Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up you'd better be running! The point is obvious; we just have to keep running!

Finally, I just want to say thank you once again. Thank you to BET and the woman who hired me, Deborah Tang. Thank you to my production staff in DC and LA. And most significantly; thank you, thank you, thank you to all who watched when they put me on and wrote when they took me off.

My friend Dr. Cornel West is right: "Outside of God's love, there's nothing in the world like Black love." I will never forget that...I will never take Black love for granted.

Thank you again and keep the faith!
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