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Host Who Received “Cease and Desist” Order from Tavis Smiley speaks with Roland Martin, Tom Joyner


by Dr. Boyce Watkins

This week, Roland Martin conducted an interesting interview with radio host Morris O’Kelly about the cease and desist order that was sent to him by Tavis Smiley.  I’m not sure what the situation is all about, but it sounds unfortunate.

I was shocked to see that Tavis took it to the courtroom, since I’d not heard O’Kelly say anything that appeared to be all that defamatory.  When I read that O’Kelly once worked for Tavis, that’s when my ears perked up.  Typically, people get into nastier fights when they have a history of bad b***d with one another, so my assessment is that at least 75% of this is personal.

With that being said, I must confess that I agree with O’Kelly that it’s ironic that Tavis has made a career out of critiquing public officials, and then files a legal document against O’Kelly for attacking him.  That’s like Jay-Z suing Nas for dissing him in a song, and it kind of breaks the rules of public discourse.   I’d love to hear Tavis Smiley’s side of the story and I’ll share it if we speak and he gives me the right to do so.

At the same time, this back-and-forth is an easy battle for O’Kelly, since so many black people are already angry at Tavis for not being a cheerleader for President Barack Obama.   The unconditional disdain that many people have for Tavis is problematic because talking about Tavis gives people an excuse to not talk about poverty.  But the data proves that both Tavis and Cornel West are right:  Poverty and wealth inequality have risen to an excruciating level, and our community continues to be harmed because our politicians are feeding us mind-numbing Kool-Aid instead of substantive economic policy.

It appears that the gist of what O’Kelly is saying about Tavis and Cornel’s poverty tour is that the tour comes off as a complaining exercise that is not accompanied by any real policy recommendations.  While I can’t speak to whether or not this is the case, I can say that Tavis can easily dismantle this critique by pointing to a set of policy recommendations that he would like for President Obama to consider.  O’Kelly also had something to say about Tavis’ decision to sign R. Kelly to a book deal even though Kelly has a shady reputation of harming young women.  I don’t have much to say about that…you know how I feel about R. Kelly.

I sincerely doubt that Tavis has spoken about poverty in this many venues, to this many people, and never mentioned a set of policies that could accompany his critique.   Also, even if he has no policies to recommend, Tavis and Cornel are doing important work by at least increasing awareness of the severity of the poverty problem and reminding us to push our politicians to address it.  Unfortunately, most of our alleged civil rights leadership has little interest in speaking to any issue that hasn’t been approved by Valerie Jarrett.

The point here is that everyone has a role, and no one is expected to do everything.  On a football team, the lineman doesn’t throw the ball and the running back doesn’t play defense. So, even if Tavis isn’t doing everything for everyone, we must give him some credit for at least trying to do something.  Most of those who attack Tavis haven’t done anything except sit back and engage in the simple task of referring to him as a “hater.”

Simultaneously, O’Kelly’s critique may actually help the poverty problem, even if it doesn’t help Tavis himself.  By laying out his concerns in a public forum, O’Kelly reminds us all that presenting an agenda to President Obama is a better strategy than simply cheering when he gets elected, signing off on every human rights violating foreign policy and marveling over how cute his daughters are.  Sometimes, criticizing someone makes them defensive, which in turn makes them believe they have to prove you wrong.  So, court order or not, O’Kelly has already made an impression on the actions of Tavis Smiley.

But for those who don’t think that there is a black agenda or that one was miraculously created last month by Rev. Al Sharpton, the fact is that there has always been an agenda for black America.  Since 2008, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Cornel West, Father Michael Pfleger and even I have clearly stated that the president and Congress must address the following issues:  Violence, mass incarceration, black unemployment, poverty and unequal educational systems.  Not only have these recommendations been made on a consistent basis, they were accompanied by specific policy avenues through which these matters could be addressed.

This begs the question:   If a black agenda and policy recommendations have always been in existence, why do so many people think that African Americans don’t know what they want?  It’s because certain people in the White House (not all of them white) made a conscious effort to only invite those individuals who would not ask the president to do anything meaningful for the black community.  That’s why Jesse Jackson was never invited to sit with the president, even as Obama has co-opted Al Sharpton and turned him into a defacto employee.  The interests of you and your family have rarely made it onto the table of discussion at celebrity White House social gatherings, since nearly every black public figure remains intoxicated by the glam of being “down with Mr and Mrs. Obama.”  In fact, I dare say that if the Sandy Hook massacre had occurred on the south side of Chicago, not a single gun law would have been changed.

With regard to O’Kelly and Tavis, this is just one of many small skirmishes that have taken place in the black public sphere during the age of Obama. Divide and conquer has been a great strategy to keep our community from progressing under the authority of a black president, all of this because we’ve been so busy either loving Obama or hating him and not spending nearly as much time giving a d**n about ourselves.  It’s time to refocus and make ourselves and our interests the center of attention, and not allow those interests to be succumbed by the career ambitions of any one public figure.

O’Kelly and Smiley both care about black people and have different ways of showing it.  Perhaps from that point, they can find their common ground. The same thing goes for the rest of us.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

84 Responses to Host Who Received “Cease and Desist” Order from Tavis Smiley speaks with Roland Martin, Tom Joyner

  1. bernina200 Reply

    December 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    It is time for our Black President, to concentrate on the Black poor. I worked tireless for the President, both terms, and would again, but IT IS TIME FOR OUR PRESIDENT, TO CONCENTRATE ON BLACK POOR, AS MUCH AS HE WILL CONCENTRATE ON IMMIGRATION,GUN CONTROL. If the school shooting had happen in South Side Chicago, nothing would happen, or even be said about gun control. Prison, are built to get rid of blacks, and Hispanics. and poor white. Prison is the new JIM CROW.
    He had better do something about Voters Rights,also because the GOP, never give up.I agree, and disagree with Tavis Smiley, and with Cornell West, nobody is totally right about every thing. Have no idea who the person, that Smiley, is trying to shut up Oh Well, that is the price you pay for being a spoke person etc.

  2. P. Jac Reply

    December 26, 2012 at 11:59 am


    If the above link to the letter is true, that has been circulating the Internet, it’s based on the time when Morris O’Kelly was employed at Tavis Smiley’s company from 2005-2010. He disclosed that then-Senator and now President Barack Obama called Tavis Smiley and his calls were not returned. Therefore, that would be the issue for the potential lawsuit- which was not publicly known. Like most corporations, such as AT&T, if you disclose proprietary and confidential information about an upcoming wireless device (for example) that will become available, an employee is subject to disciplinary action including termination. Employees have to sign and agree to those terms, because if they don’t – they won’t be hired.
    Also, many people have talked negatively about Tavis Smiley and others and they could just go around having their attorneys issue ‘Cease and Desist’ letters. I haven’t seen Morris O’Kelly address what is in the letter specifically that is circulating the Internet, regarding PAST private knowledge while he was employed there. The letter mentioned that they know that he has Freedom of Speech on information that is publicly available, but not private conversations/knowledge during his time of employment with Tavis Smiley’s company.

    • Unk Reply

      December 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      Thanks for posting the letter. I hadn’t seen it prior to now. Even though Kelly says that (then) Senator Obama called the office but Smiley stopped taking his calls, I still don’t know the full circumstances behind him ignoring the calls. Was this before or after his SOBU event that year? There just isn’t enough info given to draw any conclusions. I don’t think that is the main reason behind Smiley not wanting Kelly to go public about his relationship with his company.

      What is interesting is the language the letter uses in describing Kelly as “terminated.” This helps prove my point that Kelly must have a personal axe to grind with Smiley. It’s also interesting to hear him say how Joyner sold him down the river by offering up apologies for Smiley. Joyner was supposed to be with him on that whole “black agenda” movement and holding candidates accountable. But Smiley was right to try to shut this guy up from making all these random statements on Facebook about him and his business. I would have done it too.

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  4. Anja Reply

    December 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    I strongly agree that there is individual culpability in the war on poverty and that many blacks have not taken advantage of many of the opportunities that we have in this country.

    Many of our young people (even in the middle and upper classes) seem to be “wedded” to the hip-hop culture and seek to glamorize the monied “gangsta” lifestyle. In many urban school districts around the country, the per capita expenditures per student is obscene given the return on the investments.

    The bottom line is that many of the students love to create mayhem and it is almost impossible to communicate, let alone teach in those environments. I have much love and respect for teachers who can survive and even thrive in those environs because every child is precious and deserves the opportunity to reach his/her fullest potential.

    There is also a role for government and President Obama. I don’t understand this philosophy that exonerates or excuses the president from specifically addressing black and urban issues. He was virtually silent on the Chicago youth violence issue but is not only vocal (as he should be) on the Newtown CT shootings but has even put Vice President Biden in charge of leading a panel to develop recommendations.

    Why so late to the party on this issue? Is it because the faces were mostly black and brown in the other h*****s cases? Some “innocent lives” were lost in those cases as well. Is there less value placed on those lives?

    Why do so many black people support this president and expect so little in return when that would not be the case with a white president – be it a Democrat or a Republican?

    Why do we give our black elected officials a pass when many of them have failed us across the board? Could it be that “image and symbolism” are more important to many of us than substance?

    President Obama once again has gotten a blank check from the black community and he can make it out to whomever he chooses and use it to do whatever he wants. He does not have to spend it on black people because many black people have given him the “he is not the president of Black America, but the United States of America – pay to the order of” status.

    And, if he does nothing that benefits blacks’ specific issues, then those of us who voted for him in such large numbers will deserve what we get.

    NOTE: A little over a 3 percentage point win by the president in the popular vote is not a mandate. That means that almost half of the people who voted in the election voted for the other, “white, old, rich, Republican racist demon or you fill in the blank” guy. And, that is a fact!

  5. Edward Smikle Reply

    December 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    What difference does the two big mouth make, none of them cannot get anything done for the black community, because blacks are not taken seriously. Not even with a black president in office, blacks are still ignored.
    All the president have to say to black people let’s pray about it, well that problem will be solved, because that is all we do is pray. Prayer dosent cost anything, and as long as we do not have to paya price weather in human lives or financial we are ok.
    A people devided and fighting over simple thing is what we do best.The individaul who said that we do not have an agenda, maybe right, because we do not have an AGENDA, that address the root cause of our problems.
    The fist thing that must be address is the history of SLAVERY. Its impact on our lives our stabelity, and our inability to to resolve our differences and to focus on solutions. We cannot ask the president to address that issue even though he is black. We have to address it ourselves in the black community. We may ask for support, but we have to develop the agenda ourselves.
    We may seek technical input from the people in power but not their involvement in finding the solitiuon.
    The community must come up with the solution.
    We have always been willing to accept the whiteman solution to our problems, that is the reason why they have never been resolved.
    We seem to be afraid to address the history of slavery, well it happen, and it happen to our ancestors, and it is impacting our lives up to this day, so accept it embarace and find solition.

  6. KG Reply

    December 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Firstly, the issues affecting poor Blacks cannot be solved in the course of Obama’s administration nor through West or Smiley’s influence on black americans. As mentioned, it takes a team effort committed to this end and it especially requires effort from the ones who are affected. We are a diverse group of people and that diversity is evident in how we view ourselves as a race of people. I am not blaming the affected ones but a real and honest discussion will have to admit that our reality are shaped by our own experiences and to change that reality would mean to stop doing the behavior that is causing some of the issues (imprisonment, drug abuse, alcoholism, poor diet, mismanagement of money). It’s been long overdue for us to take control of ourselves, our health status, economic situation, etc and heal as a people. Once we can heal from the past, we can move forward in a more positive direction.

  7. Ruby from NJ Reply

    December 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Van Cephus expresses my sentiments precisely. Many times I have said the same words to and about young Black people. It is incomprehensible that Black people of all ages refuse to learn the language of this country. They have to use it when negotiating with anyone about anything important. To be able to speak only slang makes people think they are uneducated and, even, ignorant. And long ago I got tired of looking at men’s underwear while they were wearing it.

  8. Dr do little Reply

    December 19, 2012 at 9:52 am

    My problem with Tavis and West is not with the challenging issues they seek to solve but with the timing of it all . I have been following the two for quite a while now and even have a few of their books . The problem I am having is where was this poverty bus when Reagan ,and the two bush’S where in office , we had the same problems then as we do now.

    • Rod Reply

      December 19, 2012 at 11:20 am

      I think Tavis was in high school/college in the 80′s during the Reagan administration and no one knew who Dr. West was. Again, Tavis didn’t have a public voice during the 1st Bush admin while people were just starting to understand who Dr. West was. If you are saying that they had nothing to say about poverty, especially during the Clinton and Bush 2 administrations, you are d**d wrong. Both were relentless in their attacks on those administrations. The whole SOBU was an anti Bush forum. While they didn’t have a poverty tour per se, they have been on the battlefield fighting. You seem to imply that they had nothing bad to say before Obama took office. That simply isn’t factual.

      If you want to jump on them for the actual date they started their campaign against poverty, then we have to attack Dr. King for starting the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 when so many black folks were killed, mistreated and denied access in the 1930′s and 1940′s. Where was he during all the lenchings? Dr. King’s timing was way off.

  9. David2001 Reply

    December 19, 2012 at 7:57 am

    This guy O Kelly doesn’t have any more credibility than Travis. O Kelly was a strong defender of Travis when Obama was running for and first elected president. But Kelly didn’t have a radio show at that time just a blog. Now that he has to cater to fanatical Obama supporters from his radio audience he’s changed his tune about Travis. I don’t agree with Watkins statement about divide and conquer. For this administration it’s more like divide and ignore. These same black Obama supporters who feel that he shouldn’t be criticized or held accountable the way elected officials should are going to be the main ones whining to the next white face that gets elected president to solve all their problems.

    • DaTruth Reply

      December 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      Amen! The hypocrisy of blk folk concerning blk faces in high places is sickening. How can we ever presume to ask any other public official for any assistance whatsoever concerning our plight when we asked Obama for absolutely nothing, even as we gave him greater than 90% of our vote ea. time. ABSOLUTELY INCREDULOUS!

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