Today Show Goes
Dark On Tim Robbins

Today Show Goes Dark On Tim Robbins
By Steve Rosenbaum, A NYC television producer

At 8:15 Monday Morning Today Show host Matt 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 expression.
Lauer then introduced Tim Robbins, who along with his wife Susan Sarandon, had had their invitations 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.
Robbins was talking serious politics on a morning chat show - and clearly hackles went up. By 8:24 Robbins 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 be quiet"
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 work."
It was at this point that something happened that has perhaps never happened before in the history of morning television.
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.



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