|Over the past five years Tom Joyner and Tavis Smiley have become black broadcasting's most popular voices. With the awards they've received, the two have become full of themselves. So full, in fact, they feel they can publicly diss the nation's wealthiest and most successful black man. When Black Entertainment Television Chairman and CEO Robert L. Johnson terminated that network's contract with "BET Tonight" host Tavis Smiley, Tom Joyner used his show to downplay Johnson's role in that decision, saying it was Viacom that "did not want to have Smiley on BET and had therefore decided to cancel the show." Joyner insists that Johnson is purely a lackey at BET since he sold it for $3 billion. Through Joyner's direction, many black Americans phoned, faxed and e-mailed BET, and its parent company, to tell them how they should run their businesses. Johnson, who sits on the boards of 10 corporations, has made billions in media and can buy both of their contracts 300 times over.|
Tom and Tavis got full of themselves through high-profile advocacy campaigns against vulnerable corporate targets. These acts have caused armchair activists in their audiences to make Smiley and Joyner beloved figures. They say the two use their shows to "bring social, political, spiritual, educational etc. issues about African Americans to them" and Viacom wanted Smiley's dismissal because he is "a threat" to whites.
Johnson calls releasing Smiley "a business decision." Along with his right to not renew an employee's contract, Johnson cites Smiley's actions in selling an exclusive interview with Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson to ABC News as "not being the actions of a team player." But, Tom and Tavis have, seemingly, been reading too many of their own press clips. They want their activists to go around Johnson, deeming him just a door mat, while making it seem Viacom's CEO is the one responsible for Smiley's firing. It's doubtful Viacom CEO Mel Karmazin even knows of Smiley.
Although 49 other people got the ax at BET, Smiley's second job is where he gets his juice. Smiley's BET show pulls less than 200,000 listeners, but his twice-weekly commentator appearances on the "Tom Joyner Morning Show" made Smiley nationally-known. To buttress Smiley's efforts to stay at BET, Joyner is trying to use his five million listeners to try and sway Viacom, all the while dissing Johnson and BET. He has rallied listeners to flood Karmazin with complaints about BET's decision, downplaying Johnson completely. "We've got to let media giants like Viacom know that we will not accept just anything they toss out to us," Joyner said on his show.
"Tavis, you taught us how to do it -- now it's time to use that power and let's save Tavis's show!" Tavis taught listeners to use telephones, fax machines and computers to advocate for "vital" black issues. They have tied up Christie's Auction House's phone lines to get slave memorabilia removed from a pending sale; goaded Congress into a Congressional Gold Medal for Rosa Parks; and forced advertising out of Katz Communications - the majority of which got sopped up by the "Tom Joyner Morning Show."
African-American armchair activists believe the two are doing beneficial community outreach. They don't know that there are many things about the show that is not what it seems. Did you know the Spring Census 2000 tour and Fall 2000 Get Out The Vote blitz were each $10 million enterprises for them. And, those who claim that Smiley and Joyner are the "voices of black people" only have to look at their silence during what became the largest race bias case in U.S. history - the Coca Cola case. On the exact day that the case was being heard in court, Joyner's show" was asking people to bring Coke bottle caps.
There's been rancor between Smiley and BET for years. Now, he refuses to acknowledge Johnson as the boss. Sadly, too many of us also can't live with that either.