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Tavis Smiley's poisonous partnership with PBS

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- Some people think that, if you get fired, it must be for a good reason. Those people should not take jobs in media, where you can get fired for little or no reason at all.

Which brings us to the unfortunate -- and, it appears, unfair -- case of what happened to Tavis Smiley.

Last week, PBS indefinitely suspended distribution of the 53-year-old African American's eponymous nightly show amid allegations of sexual impropriety. In a statement, the network said that it hired legal counsel to conduct an investigation into "troubling allegations" and that the inquiry "uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS."

That's awfully vague. No tote bag for you, PBS.

Variety magazine reported that Smiley is accused of having "sexual relationships with multiple subordinates ... Some witnesses interviewed expressed concern that their employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley."

In other words, based on what has been reported so far, it sounds like Smiley was dating subordinates. That's not smart, but nor is it unheard of in the American workplace.

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I've known this man for 23 years in a friendship that started when we co-hosted a Los Angeles radio show in our twenties. Smiley went on to build a media empire and provide a powerful voice for Black America.

And he made a few enemies along the way -- especially when he bravely criticized Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, for not being sufficiently attentive to the problems facing the African-American community.

The professional talker has hit the airwaves to blast PBS for making a "huge mistake" by rushing to judgment after a "sloppy investigation." PBS accused Smiley of being inconsistent in his public comments. Smiley responded that the network is bent on "public humiliation" and "personal destruction," and that he was denied due process.

With respect, that's where my old friend goes wrong.

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