Fishbowl 5 With Tavis Smiley

This time next week broadcaster Tavis Smiley will be in town to host the nationally televised discussion, “Remaking America: From Poverty to Prosperity.” The event will be at GWU and broadcast live in C-SPAN. It will rebroadcast on PBS for three nights beginning Jan. 16. His panel: Cornel West, Princeton University professor and author; Suze Orman, America’s authority on personal finance; Michael Moore, Academy Award®-winning filmmaker; Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America; Jeffrey Sachs, poverty expert and prof at Columbia University; Majora Carter, Urban Revitalization Strategist; Roger Clay, President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development; and Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America.

We caught up with Tavis by phone this morning to pick his brain on a range of topics.

1. What are you most looking forward to about this summit? Doing what we can to help make poverty a priority in this country. Four years ago, during the last presidential campaign, in those presidential debates the word poverty and poor did not come up one time. As you recall, the economy was tanking. Obama never raised it. McCain never raised. The moderators never raised it. I have committed myself to making sure that I’d do everything I can to make sure we had every platform we have available to us. This is a another step in that process.

2. How about Michael Moore? Are you hoping he gets dressed up for this one and not look like a slob as usual? I don’t care how he looks as long as he shows up and tells the truth. Michael challenges us to face to deal with to be unsettled by hard truths. And that’s why he’s an Academy Award Winner. And seeing as poor people aren’t walking around in Brooks Brothers and Farragamo shoes, I can guarantee you that Michael will have on his baseball cap and Cornel will have on his three-piece suit.

3. Have you met and interacted with Suze before? I know her very well. She is a dear friend of mine Next week at the National Press Club, Suze is making a major major major announcement that I think is going to turn the financial services industry on its ear. I’m going to be with her when she makes her announcement. The point is, when it comes to talking to ordinary everyday Americans, no one is better than Suze Orman. I’ve never had a panel so full of long distance runners on this issue. I’m chomping at the bit with all kinds of boundless energy to moderate it.

4. What do you think of the Republican crop of hopefuls as it relates to your cause about poverty in America? “I think that the White House, Congress, Republicans and Democrats – none of them have stepped up to the issue on poverty. Poverty, at the moment in this country, is not a priority. On the issue of poverty, none has laid out a credible plan. It’s not just about the Republican crop, they are all deficient, all bankrupt on the issue of poverty.” He adds hopefully…”At the moment.”

5. How do you think journalists are doing on the whole in terms of covering the administration? On the issue of poverty, the Occupied Movement is an absolute rebuke of the media. The media have only covered this story reluctantly and they were forced into doing it. When the numbers are as they are — half are in poverty or a step away from poverty — the media has to be basically pushed and pulled and pricked and prodded into covering the issue. We ought to be basking these questions. We ought to be unsettling people with hard truths. What the media does is follow stories as opposed to using the public airwaves to empower people with information. We’ve got to do a better job.

5a. In roundtables like these sometimes guests can go on too long. How do you stop yourself from doing this and in this case, others? Short answer is, this is what I’ve done for 20 years. I’m not good at a whole lot of stuff, but this is what I do. These are real persons I know and they’ve been on my programs. They’re all very respectful. These are persons who love to learn. No one is coming to GW next week to filibuster. You just lean forward and say, ‘Hey Michael, let me ask you this.’ There is a gentle way to do it.

5b. From an FBDC reader on Twitter: “Mr. Smiley with this year being an election year, do you foresee an invitation to the White House for an interview?” He replied with long laughter and remarked, “My answer is, I am not holding my breath.”