Tavis Swims in the Fishbowl Daily (So he Says…)

LA-based talk show host Tavis Smiley comes to D.C. next week to moderate a “multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-ideological” panel next Thursday at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. The panel is set to include opinion-makers such as Cornel West, Arianna Huffington, Maria Bartiromo, David Frum, Dana Milbank, David Brody, and Maria Teresa Kumar.

“We’re going to talk about how this country can get back on the right track, if that’s possible,” Smiley told FishbowlDC in a phone interview on Thursday morning. (Horribly, I completely spaced our Wednesday interview and he agreed to chat with me Thursday. When I answered the phone and apologized profusely, he said, “I’m just happy when you answer the phone. Turns me on.” Laughter ensued. A well-deserved crack for standing him up.)

Anyway, back to the interview and getting the country back on track. “There is so much happening in Washington in our body politic,” he’s saying. Asked if he thinks our country can get on a better path, he said, “I think America’s a great country, but I think we have to be on the right track on this divided government that we have to endure. I think the president squandered some time. He could have been more aggressive in the past two years.”

Smiley’s media diet in Washington includes a brief buttering up of our sister site, FishbowlLA, and FishbowlDC: “Oh man, I read most everything online. I live in LA. I’m swimming in the Fishbowl every day, every other day.” When in Washington, Smiley prefers boutique hotels like the Hotel George. But this time he’s staying at the host hotel, the Madison Loews. As for eating, he says he always ends up at Georgia Browns and Ben’s Chili Bowl.

What else can we expect to hear from Smiley next week and what are his thoughts on the media? As he put it…

“Americans don’t have faith in the system,” he said. “People do not think that their children and grandchildren will do as well as they have done. It’s not just me concerned about my own station in life. The future is just so bleak and that’s what we’re up against, the blues that  the country is facing right now. We have to be more inspiring and by inspiring I don’t mean cheerleading, but by raising the kinds of issues, asking the kinds of questions, holding our leaders to an agenda that is good for all of America.”

The media, he says, are doing so-so, not great. “We get so caught up in the sport of politic and I don’t think we ‘re doing enough to empower people with information,” he said. “We cover the Tea Party. We cover all the antics of the Tea Party. Sarah Palin gets more attention than anybody in this country other than Obama. The media likes to cover the antics of the Tea Party and we don’t get a chance to drill down and have some deep, rich discourse.”

Next week’s three and half hour panel will broadcast live on C-SPAN and on PBS the following week.  “There aren’t any politicians on this panel by design. I want this panel to be people who can speak freely,” he said. “Imagine that, a conversation in Washington where people can express themselves honestly.”

Details: The event is Thursday, January 13 and is free and open to the public. People, however, must register online at Americasnextchapter.com to attend. The event starts at 6 p.m. Doors open at 4:30. No cameras or video equipment allowed.