NAB 2008: Tim Robbins Decries Media 'Abyss' in NAB Keynote

Las Vegas -- Actor Tim Robbins, noting that he has been labeled a traitor for previous comments he made about this nation and its pre-emptive war in Iraq, pre-empted a planned dialogue on new media at the National Association of Broadcasters' annual show and launched a humorous, profanity-laced attack on both the state of the country and the consolidation of viewpoints being carried by national media.

“We are at an abyss as an industry and as a country,” Robbins said. (To listen to audio of the speech, click here.)

Ditching the chance to give his views in an exchange with TV critic David Bianculli, who appears on National Public Radio and in the pages of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Robbins described that abyss using expletives that would not be allowed on free over-the-air radio or television by the Federal Communications Commission. In addition to using the common vulgarity for copulation, known as the f-bomb, Robbins joked that “Die, you Nazi c___suckers" was the lesser known of Edward R. Murrow's signoffs at the end of his London blitz broadcasts.

Before gamely relinquishing his role as interlocutor, Bianculli, who had read a copy of the speech before the scheduled Q&A, likened Robbins' media critique to those of Newt Minow, who famously declared TV a "vast wasteland," and to Murrow's "wires and lights in a box" speech. (For Bianculli's account of the speech, click here.)

Despite being urged by an audience of hundreds of radio and television executives to “give the speech,” Robbins didn’t hesitate to bite the hand of the media. He said the radio industry had been on the way to creating a single “national playlist” before XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio came along, and he criticized other national media for not relentlessly pursuing what he carefully but clearly implied were lies of the current president, George W. Bush, in the relentless fashion they went after his predecessor, Bill Clinton, for his sexual dalliance with an intern.

He also called on the industry to turn back from a kind of reporting that reduces the variety of voices being delivered on any given issue and distracts the public with excessive reporting about starlets stepping out of cars with no panties on. Such news takes “no energy" and requires little thought, he said.

“Shouldn’t broadcasters see themselves as part of a larger picture, isn’t there an obligation to honestly report on what’s going on, to pursue stories past their headlines,’’ Robbins said. “Haven’t criminal acts occurred in government? Shouldn’t there be accountability for inept policy decisions? Shouldn’t someone be fired? And you know something? I didn’t hear any of that, because I am still thinking about that starlet getting out of the car without the panties."

Satellite technology provides music people actually want to hear, he noted. And “just when we were close to a national news media providing a general consensus on what the truth is,” he added, “along comes the Internets [sic...a winking reference to President Bush's notorious malapropism] that allows its users a choice on the kind of news it watches and the YouTube. My God, we’ve got to stop them.”

Robbins told broadcasters they can either use their power to "lift us up" into a "more enlightened age" or they can "hide behind that old adage: I'm just a businessman. I provide what the audience wants." He said the "pornographic obsession with celebrity culture," and divisive coverage of racial and social issues should be left behind, as should focus groups and fears about job security.

"Enough is enough," he said. "Now is the time to move away from our lesser selves. Now is the time to stop making money on the misfortunes of others and the prurient and salacious desires" of the public.

Robbins’ lengthy tirade went beyond the official 10:30 a.m. end of the morning keynote session, and there never was any formal interchange between Bianculli and the actor.

But NAB executive vice president Dennis Wharton, the spokesman for the industry group running the show, said Robbins was not given the hook.

“"We found Mr. Robbins' remarks to be entertaining and thought-provoking, although we were not expecting the expletives not deleted," Wharton said. “We would obviously disagree with some of his characterizations but respect his viewpoints."

For complete coverage of the 2008 NAB Show, click here.