Listeners tuning in to the Tom Joyner Morning Show on Friday were dismayed when the host announced that commentator Tavis Smiley, after 12 years on the radio program, will be leaving the show. Since then, speculation has buzzed that Smiley is leaving because of harsh disapproval from fans of the show over his critical remarks about presidential candidate Barack Obama. Essence.com talked to Smiley’s good friend, scholar and author Dr. Cornel West, about the real reason he’s decided to move on.
Essence.com: When did you talk to Tavis about his decision to leave?
Cornel West: I talked to him this morning. He’s my dear brother. We talk every day.
Essence.com: How’s he doing?
C.W.: He’s in good shape; he’s strong. He’s not quitting, he has a contract that goes up until the end of June, so he will be on until June. He was just giving prior notice that, after 12 years of high-quality service, he had other very important projects. He has a major exhibition of African-American art and artifacts that he’s putting out in early fall. He’s got a big documentary he’s doing this summer. At the same time, he’s got two presidential conventions to cover, and he’s got SmileyBooks, which he’ll be hitting the road to promote. So he’s got a number of very exciting projects that he’s got to do, and he’s decided he’s got to move on. But the important thing to keep in mind is, he’s got a deep love for Tom, and Tom’s got a deep love for him.
Essence.com: An article by Tom Joyner on BlackAmericaWeb.com says that Tavis is leaving because he ‘can’t take the hate he’s been getting regarding the Barack issue.’ Any truth to that?
C.W.: That is just simply wrong. That’s absolutely salacious. That was a speculative hypothesis that Brother Tom put out there. But Brother Tavis never said anything like that; never mentioned that to me. That’s not true.
Essence.com: Well, is the criticism Tavis received for his opinions about Senator Obama something that bothered him?
C.W.: Well, it had nothing to do with his transition. I just think that Tavis is part of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and he is committed to the accountability of the candidates. Every time you ask for accountability you receive a certain kind of criticism, and he’s been able to move right through it with dignity and grace.
Essence.com: The announcement feels so abrupt. Did he just recently come to this decision to leave?
C.W.: It’s true that he talked to Tom for the first time last night to convey the decision, but he’s been talking about this for a long time. He tried to leave two years ago, after ten years on the show, because of his other projects. You’ve got to keep in mind that he’s getting up at three in the morning twice a week, and he’s got a radio show and a TV show and State of the Black Union. It’s a heavy schedule. He tried to leave after his tenth anniversary, but Brother Tom persuaded him to stay. He has a deep appreciation for him. So now he’s leaving after 12 years. I think it was a surprise to Tom for him to come out of the block so quickly on this. When Tavis and Tom talked, I think the agreement was that he’d be able to reflect on this on Tuesday’s show.
Essence.com: Is moving on bittersweet for him?
C.W.: The past 12 years with Brother Tom Joyner were wonderful. Any time you pass through a very crucial stage in your life it’s a moment of transition, but he’s excited he’s able to move on to these other projects that offer so much. Tavis is such a historical figure that even when he decides just to move on, it becomes news. That’s the kind of gravity the brother has at this moment. I think, in some ways, Tavis is stunned by this kind of media attention. But I’m not stunned at all. I’m quite aware of his historical gravity.
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