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Tavis Smiley Calls Out Corporate Media for Uncritical Coverage of “Racial Arsonist” Donald Trump

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The broadcaster Tavis Smiley made headlines this week for an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” when he called out Donald Trump for being an “unrepentant, irascible religious and racial arsonist.” Trump responded by calling Smiley a “hater and racist.” Smiley responds to Trump while also criticizing the corporate media for what he calls a lax response to the Republican front-runner’s views.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the question is where we go from here. And let’s look at the 2016 presidential race. Tavis, I wanted to play a clip of your appearance on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that’s been making headlines this week.

TAVIS SMILEY: What troubles me, though, is that Trump is still, to my mind at least, an unrepentant, irascible religious and racial arsonist. And so, when we talk about how Donald Trump is rising in the poll, you can’t do that absent the kind of campaign he’s running, the issues that he’s raising. And for us to just say, “Donald Trump is rising in the polls,” and not connect that to the base message that he’s putting out there, I think, just misses the point.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Tavis Smiley on This Week, the ABC Sunday morning talk show. Well, Donald Trump responded on Twitter, saying, “Why does [This Week] allow a hater & racist like Tavis Smiley to waste good airtime? ABC can do much better than him!” OK, Tavis, your response?

TAVIS SMILEY: Well, I’m laughing, because my grandmother said to me many years ago that “Be careful, baby, of stooping so low that you can’t get back up.” So I don’t want to go so low that I can’t—in responding to Donald Trump, that I can’t get back up.

Let me say, before I answer that, if I can, very quickly, this story just hits me. There’s such a fine line between cynicism and skepticism. And I think skepticism is healthy, cynicism is a bit unhealthy for me. But this is why people don’t trust government. This is why so many Americans are cynical. That we could use the services of this young sister to fight and defend this country, but—I mean, it’s just—I’m sitting here, I’m trying to wrap my brain around this story that she just shared about the condition that she’s in, and she’s basically stateless.

Having said that, back to Donald Trump, again, this is why this is so scary, because if Donald Trump were to have his way, it’s not just this sister who would be in trouble, but all the other folks that he wants to deport and Muslims who he doesn’t want to let in. I just hope that at some point our consciences are pricked and that we come to fundamentally address the question of what kind of nation do we really want to be. That’s the question, Juan: What kind of people are we, really? Not what we profess, but what we really—but who are we, really? And I just think that we’re headed in such a dangerous direction, when Trump is rising in the polls.

So, Amy, the only point I was trying to make was—is that it’s not just about Trump. I’m just sick and tired of the media for giving him the pass. As I’ve said before, he’s being covered, but he’s not being challenged. He’s being covered, but he’s not being condemned. And we just titillate. I mean, the mainstream media is just so excited—and I get this part—they’re so excited, Juan, to have a race where the establishment is not in control of anything. And this is making money, it’s getting ratings, it’s selling newspapers. So Trump is—Trump is—he’s entertaining to a lot of people in this business. But there’s a price to pay for that kind of xenophobia, long-term. And I wanted to challenge Trump to stop that nonsense, but also challenge the media to be more honest in their coverage of him.

AMY GOODMAN: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, whose parents immigrated from India, used the official Republican response to the State of the Union to criticize Donald Trump.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY: Today, we live in a time of threats, like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.

AMY GOODMAN: Nikki Haley’s speech did not go over well in all Republican circles. Ann Coulter took to Twitter and wrote, quote, “Trump should deport Nikki Haley.” Medea Benjamin, as we begin to wrap up, the figures are very interesting now, a new poll showing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders leading by five points over rival Hillary Clinton in Iowa, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. The survey from Quinnipiac found 49 to 44 percent for Sanders. Meanwhile, the New York Times/CBS poll shows that Clinton’s lead over Sanders nationally has virtually disappeared. He’s particularly appealing to young people. Can you talk about the issues that are being raised now and how 2016, from Republicans to Democrats, this election is breaking down your typical divisions?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, yes, but, Amy, I want to say that I think it’s important we learn the lessons from this Obama time that whether it’s a Trump that comes to office or the war-like Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, for that matter, we need the grassroots to be stronger. The Black Lives Matter movement has been fantastic, environmental movement, immigrant rights. But the antiwar movement has really lost its steam during these years in Obama. And if we’re going to ever shift the money from the military to support expanded Social Security, addressing the environmental crisis, we’re going to have to rebuild that movement. And that’s the appeal I want to make in this last moments that I have on your show.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Tavis Smiley, that issue of Trump and Sanders’ equivalency on either sides of the spectrum?

TAVIS SMILEY: I took that on Sunday and been doing it on this tour all week long, as well. I mean, they are appealing to a particular group of people, but not for the same reasons, and I’m tired of the media and pundits lumping them together. And finally, on Donald Trump, as you know, there have been robocalls on his behalf by a white supremacist group now. Donald Trump immediately got on Twitter to take me on, but unless something happened since I’ve been on your set this morning, he still hasn’t gotten around yet to denouncing this white supremacist group now doing robocalls on his behalf. This is what I mean when I say the media aren’t asking the right questions of Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And as far as I know, Donald Trump has not apologized to the Muslim activist in Rock Hill, South Carolina, who quietly stood up with a T-shirt that said “Salam, I come in peace” and was taken out by security, along with a Jewish immigration lawyer, activist, who, too, like her, was wearing a yellow star, going back to World War II, the Jews that were identified by the Nazis.

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