Tavis Smiley Ousted as Martin Luther King Keynote Speaker

Tavis Smiley Ousted as Martin Luther King Keynote Speaker

Tavis Smiley has been replaced as a keynote speaker at a Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon because of criticisms he made against President Obama.

Published January 10, 2012

Tavis Smiley is learning that criticizing President Obama can be costly in more ways than one. The PBS talk show host ruffled feathers last summer when he accused Obama of not doing enough for poor African-Americans and launched with Princeton professor Cornel West a “poverty tour” of the U.S. to highlight economic disparity. Smiley was scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the 20th annual MLK luncheon on Jan. 16 hosted by the Peoria Civic Center, but has been replaced by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson because of his comments.


“I don’t see my role as one of criticizing the president. I see my role as one of holding the president — this and every other president — accountable,” Smiley said in an interview on Fox News on Monday. “Something is wrong with this country … that so often the political right, and I am no defender of the political right … gets accused of playing the game of political correctness. What this underscores is that those on the left, the Democrats can play that game of political correctness as well.”


According to Smiley, six out of 1500 people who bought tickets for the event complained about his appearance. The fact that they prevailed, he said, is a “quintessential example of political correctness.”


“What’s important to us is putting together a luncheon that celebrates the life and work of Dr. King,” luncheon organizer Alma Brown explained last week. “And it became evident over the last few days that people were upset about comments that Tavis Smiley had made, comments that we weren’t aware of unfortunately, so we made the decision to cancel his contract.”


Smiley was to earn $37,000 to deliver the address and will instead receive a smaller cancellation fee.


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(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/ Getty Images Entertainment)

Written by Joyce Jones


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