By Victor Trammell – (Source: yourblackworld.net) – In 2017, legendary broadcast journalist Tavis Smiley (pictured) was forced out the door at PBS, the former television home for his long-running evening talk show.
Smiley’s acrimonious exit was marred with controversy due to the media mogul’s toxic struggle with PBS. During this legal battle between a white-dominated public broadcasting juggernaut and a black veteran media personality, the latter party was accused of some very serious allegations of sexual misconduct. There was a laundry list of damning complaints about Smiley’s behavior, which came from numerous women who worked for him and with him at PBS.
The PBS vs. Tavis Smiley legal showdown in court began in 2018.
The private nonprofit broadcasting giant’s lawsuit was equipped with a 500-page dossier of dirt on Smiley, which charged him with committing abhorrent acts of sexual deviance for years. The PBS civil suit also charged Smiley with looting the company. Execs demanded a hefty seven-figure sum from Smiley for not delivering on his end of the business side. However, the former late-night BET talk guru fought back.
His countersuit was also tossed out and the talk tycoon was forced to pay up.
Now, a little over a year later, the prolific author and journalist extraordinaire has re-emerged in another facet of media: Talk radio. And he has made history in doing so. According to the Associated Press, Smiley has secured a new position as the owner and chief contributor by revamping KBLA Talk 1580 radio station in Los Angeles, California. It is safe to say that not many people in the black media community (including myself, admittedly) saw this coming.
The “Me Too” movement was and still is nothing to play with. Some of America’s most powerful black men (i.e. Bill Cosby) have been dealt dire career consequences, which were linked to ancient allegations of imposing sexual deviance on women–the elicit fate of onerous lapses in judgment coming back to haunt them.
However, despite losing his court case, the unapologetic talk tycoon continues to maintain that all the shameful sexual acts he was accused of were “consensual.”
Smiley’s rise from the ashes is certainly a comeback power move, which has happened in spite of many thinking that his media career was over. His radio resurgence will make his new KBLA venture the first black-owned talk radio endeavor in the history of Los Angeles. Smiley debuted his upcoming show last Saturday (June 19) right in tune with the Juneteenth holiday–ahead of his personal ownership path toward financial liberation.
In his exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Smiley discussed his newfound business and creative freedom. However, one would not be overstating if they said he came off as slightly defiant.
“It’s frustrating when you’re used to being on the air every day somewhere, (and) people are hearing your voice in this country, seeing your face, for as many years I’ve been doing this. [Introspection became my pillar]….a lot of it,” Smiley said in his interview.
“I have no idea why what happened to me happened. This Me Too moment happened at a time and in a way where it was very difficult, almost impossible, to put forth any other narrative, no matter how truthful that narrative was,” he continued.
Nevertheless, new challenges await the accomplished black letterman now that he is back in the saddle.
“While I was watching this racial reckoning last summer, it was so clear to me that people were being heard to some degree, but there were no African American-owned platforms where people had their voice on a regular basis. The media can lose interest when protests stop but the issues that matter to us don’t go away,” Smiley said.
Travis Smiley bounced back after his PBS lawsuit drama in record time. Now he’s a host and the owner of LA’s first black talk radio station in history. I am not fond of the civil infractions he was found liable for when his sexual harassment trial ended. PBS also won a big payday in damages before Smiley’s countersuit failed.
But just like that, he rose back to power. This time, he owns the show. I guess black men can fail their way to the top too, Mr. Smiley. He said white men are the only ones who can. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m proud of him. On the other hand, I’m praying like hell that he doesn’t fail. There are whites, blacks, and women of all races that don’t wish him well. They see his reconstitution as a slap in the face.
Regardless, his history-making move in broadcasting, content distribution, and black business ownership, in general, is good for minorities of color. LA is truly a melting pot and it’s the right place for him to do this. One of America’s most well-known black media personalities has a legitimate shot at redemption. However, it will come in lieu of heightened responsibility.
Hopefully, Smiley’s new position of power will catalyze a staff that reflects the ethnic make-up of its predominantly minority environment. KBLA’s new staffing plan must also be inclusive of black women as well. They have been very supportive of his comeback and they do not get enough credit for it. As credible, necessary, and formidable as it is, the Me Too movement should not scare Smiley away from employing talented black women in media.
The lovely Sharon Reed, a female anchor for the Black News Channel (BNC), recently had Smiley featured on her “Start Your Day” AM TV news show for an interview. Reed’s olive branch extension certainly helped the media blitz for Smiley’s rebuilding campaign. As KBLA 1580’s new owner, he can control such staffing outcomes now–no excuses.
The rebirth of a dying national black-owned news apparatus in the U.S. is at stake here–especially black radio media. We can either make history or be history.
As Tyler Perry told Forbes after being officially crowned a billionaire, “Ownership changes everything.” But even more than the man who owns, ownership does more to change the dynamic of the personnel surrounding the owner. However, when it comes to black ownership: The ONUS is on US. Some black owners forget this and still hire in accordance with the status quo. I will not name any names this time. But you had better believe they are out there.
Unfortunately, some of us still cannot accept the BONUS with taking off the “B.” Will Smiley take initiative? In time, we all shall see.