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Sun, 05.02.2021

Tavis Smiley, Media Commentator born

*Travis Smiley was born on this date in 1964. He is a Black media commentator and writer. 

The third of ten children, he was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, the son of Joyce M. and Emory G. Smiley. When he was very young, his father, an Air Force non-commissioned officer, was transferred to Grissom Air Force Base in Bunker Hill, Indiana. Upon arriving in Indiana, the Smiley family resided in a crowded mobile home in Kokomo. Smiley's mother was an associate minister at their church, the New Bethel Tabernacle, part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Smiley recalled for the Washington Post that he was in church every day.

Smiley was accepted into the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity during his second year at Indiana University. He became the business manager of his dormitory, a member of the student senate, and director of minority affairs. After his friend Denver Smith was killed by Indiana police officers who claimed to have acted in self-defense, Smiley helped lead protests to defend Smith, who he believed had been wrongfully killed. Those protests led him to a work-study internship at the office of Bloomington Mayor Tomilea Allison.

Smiley also interned in the administration of the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. After graduation from Indiana University, he worked for three years as an administrative aide in the Bradley organization, hosted radio talk shows, served as a guest commentator on several network television shows, and created his own 60-second syndicated radio commentary, "The Smiley Report." He has written three books since 1993, most notably the liberal manifesto Hard Right: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right. Published in June 1996, the book was into a third printing only a month later. Smiley became a radio commentator in 1991, and, starting in 1996, he hosted the talk show BET Talk (later renamed BET Tonight) on Black Entertainment Television (BET).

After Smiley sold an exclusive interview of Sara Jane Olson to ABC News in 2001, BET declined to renew his contract that year. Smiley then began hosting The Tavis Smiley Show on National Public Radio (NPR) (2002–04) and hosted Tavis Smiley on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on weekdays and The Tavis Smiley Show on Public Radio International (PRI) from 2004 until 2017. From 2010 to 2013, Smiley and Cornel West worked together to host their radio talk show, Smiley & West. They were featured together interviewing musician Bill Withers in the 2009 documentary Still Bill.

He was the new host of Tavis Talks on BlogTalkRadio's Tavis Smiley Network. On December 13, 2017, PBS indefinitely suspended Smiley. PBS issued a statement saying that it had hired a law firm to conduct an investigation "immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley" and that this investigation "uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS." Variety reported that Smiley was let go due to multiple relationships with subordinates, some of whom felt the relationship was connected to their employment. Smiley also alleged to have created a "verbally abusive and threatening environment."

Smiley's suspension followed PBS's decision to part ways with Charlie Rose. Smiley is accused of having "had sexual relationships with multiple staff members, some of whom reportedly felt that their relationship with the TV host was connected to their employment status." On December 14, Smiley described the PBS investigation as "biased and sloppy" and said he would fight the allegations and the damage to his reputation. He said, "I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth." "To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering six networks over 30 years", he said.

Soon after the suspension, Smiley went on a country-wide tour to defend his innocence while supporting the #MeToo movement and denouncing workplace harassment. In 2018, Smiley sued PBS for wrongful termination while PBS countersued, claiming a breach of a moral’s clause in his contract. On March 4, 2020, a jury in Washington, D.C., agreed with the television network recommending to the judge that Smiley pay PBS $2.6 million.

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