African-American talk show host and Barack Obama critic Tavis Smiley expressed disappointment with an Illinois employee group’s decision to drop him as the guest speaker of its Jan. 16 Martin Luther King luncheon after another local group threatened to boycott the function.
Smiley, a liberal, told Fox News Monday morning, “Something is wrong with this country that so often the political right, and I am no defender of the political right … gets accused of playing the game of political correctness. What this underscores is that those on the left, the Democrats can play that game of political correctness as well.”
Alma Brown, an organizer for the Public Employees for Community Concerns’ luncheon, told the Peoria Journal Star it dropped its contract with Smiley last week over ticket sale concerns.
According to Brown, a local book club publicly announced it was would boycott the event because of Smiley’s vocal criticism of the president. The local NAACP chapter and a family group, who both bought tables at the event, requested a refund following the club’s announcement.
She also said she is not experiencing the same level of interest as previous years.
"Bottom line is this is hurting the luncheon, and I'm not going to let anything hurt the luncheon," Brown said of the decision.
About 1,220 tickets have already been sold at $40 a ticket or $400 for a table of 10, according to the PJ Star. Brown said 30 people have requested refunds.
In a contrasting account, Smiley said only six people requested refunds.
“When … you got 15,000 people who already bought tickets to come to an event and six people want their tickets back and you end up trumping the entire event, that’s a quintessential example of political correctness and we have got to do better in this country,” he said.
Smiley and his PRI co-host Cornell West embarked on a 16-city tour around the United States last summer to expose the conditions of America’s poor and underclass. He and West both criticized Obama’s diminished leadership on behalf of the poor in many television appearances.
"I think too often [the president] compromises, too often he capitulates. I think the Republicans know that. I think they laugh when he's not around," Smiley said in an August ABC interview.
He also criticized Obama’s words at the 2011 Congressional Black Caucus, urging black professionals to “take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes, shake it off, stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.”
Smiley told Fox News that he was not criticizing the president. Rather, he was merely holding Obama accountable as he would any president.
The decision has led some to disavow the luncheon, putting politics over Martin Luther King’s legacy.
PJ Star commentator Marston Shores responded, “It's unfortunate that there are those in the black population who have hijacked the living legacy of MLK as if it's all about liberal blacks rather than all blacks and all people."