Frowning on Smiley

The popular TV show host's new book is little more than vapid self-promotion.

BY: Louis A. Ruprecht, Jr.


Doing What's Right: How to Fight for What You Believe--and How to Make a Difference

by Tavis Smiley


144 pp.

In a justly famous passage from "Twilight of the Idols," Nietzsche condemns what he calls the "moronofication" of a too syrupy and self-satisfied Christian culture. Kierkegaard was another premier 19th century critic of the facile equation of Christianity with morals, religious faith with "doing what's right." Both men had books like Tavis Smiley's, "Doing What's Right" in mind.

The most inspired dimension of the book is its author's biography. A former aide to Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, Smiley has been an activist in and out of government since, while attending Indiana University, he saw local cops shoot a black student. The incident, he says, opened his eyes to institutional racism, and inspired his own early forays into activism. Today Smiley hosts a talk-show on the Black Entertainment Television cable channel called "BET Tonight." "When advocacy meets media," Smiley tells us, it is "combustible," and in "Doing What's Right" Smiley offers a chronicle of his discovery of the power of such combustion.

But he offers little else besides. "Doing What's Right" begins with a well-worn trope: there is a profound sense of moral slippage in the nation, evident in all the polling pundits do. More worrisome is the sense that there's nothing to be done: citizens feel disengaged, disempowered; activism and volunteerism are dying arts.

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