Today Show Goes Dark on Tim Robbins
From Rock and Rap Confidential
Date: 4/18/2003 11:06:32 AM Pacific Daylight Time
Steve Rosenbaum, a NYC television producer.
TODAY SHOW GOES DARK ON TIM ROBBINS
Today Show goes black on Tim Robbins
At 8:15 Monday Morning Today Show host Mat Lauer
introduced the controversy that has been kicked up by
the cancellation of the 15th anniversary of Bull Durham
at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In a letter made public on Wednesday - Dale Petroskey,
the President of the Hall suggested that his venue was
not the appropriate venue for a highly charged political
Lauer then introduced Tim Robbins, who along with his
wife Susan Sarandon, had had their initiations revoked.
Lauer quizzed Robbins on free speech, and pointedly
asked Robbins if he had planned to use the Hall of Fame
event as a platform for a political statement. Robbins
said 'of course not.'
The discussion went back in forth for a few minutes,
with Lauer being neither accommodating nor
confrontational. And Robbins' responses were equally
measured. But Robbins did end up saying things that have
hardly been heard before since the war began. "The
message is if you speak out against this administration
you can and will be punished" Robbins explained.
"We're sending out messages on an almost daily basis
that they have no right to protest against this
President" said Robbins. To which Lauer responded with a
question about the Dixie Chicks and their controversial
comments against the President. Robbins responded -
pointing to the fact that the protest and banning of the
Dixie Chicks was by Clear Channel Radio and it's
connection with the Bush Administration. This
conversation was unheard of in the current environment.
Robins was talking serious politics on a morning chat
show - and clearly hackles went up. By 8:24 Robins was
explaining "We're fighting for freedom for the Iraqi
people right now so that they can have freedom of
speech, yet we're telling our own citizens they have to
Lauer could have called it quits there -but he went on
"When you see pictures of Iraqi's dancing and
celebrating -does it change your mind?" "No" Said
Robbins - "I'm ecstatic that they feel this freedom, I
hope we have the resolve to get in there and make it
It was at this point that something happened that has
perhaps never happened before in the history of morning
The music swelled under Robbins... Mid-sentence
answering a question that had been asked just 10 seconds
earlier... "We have a terrible track record" said
Robbins, clearly not able to hear that music was coming
up to literally 'play him off the stage'.
The camera cut to a wide shot. Lauer was leaning in and
very much in conversation. Either Lauer was ignoring
what must have been the deluge of invectives in his
earpiece, or he just determined that he wasn't finished
with this line of questioning.
But the music ended. The bumper music ended and the
studio was in the two shot as Robbins said..."It's for
some reason not in our best interest to keep it going
and pursue it to the next level." Lauer nodded, and the
camera faded to black as Robbins - mid sentence - had
his microphone turned down.
A conversation about free speech. An anchor asking
reasonable questions. A guest responding in equally
reasonable tones. No attempt to close out the discussion
- to say "Well thank you Tim". This was not a
filibuster. Robbins was not hogging the spotlight.
Someone in the control room simply decided that it was
time to pull the plug. And without grace or ceremony, or
even the face saving of letting Lauer say "We're out of
time" as morning shows do on so many occasions.
A conversation about free speech and free expression was
cut off mid sentence as the network went to black.
Television history was made, as million of Americans got
to watch in real time just how powerful and inescapable
censorship can be. Robbins wasn't revealing troop
locations, or giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Remember the war has been won - by all accounts. He was
discussing freedom, free speech, and why his appearance
has been canceled at the Baseball Hall of Fame. NBC
should invite him back and let him finish his thought -
or admit at least who was on the phone to master control
demanding that they pull the plug.