- 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"
- "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.