MSNBC’s Conflict of Interest: Al Sharpton

By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media

The day before Al Sharpton’s particular brand of civil rights activism led him to speak at Michael Brown’s funeral, The New York Times was celebrating him with a softball piece that outlined Sharpton’s strong connections to the Obama administration, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, and even New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. What do all these leaders have in common? They lean left—hard left. Or as the motto of MSNBC, where Sharpton has a weekday show, puts it, they “lean forward.”

But Sharpton’s leftward leanings weren’t the subject of the feature by the Times. Instead, authors Nikita Stewart and Jason Horowitz focused on Sharpton’s burgeoning political prowess in the national sphere, and they call him “the country’s most prominent voice on race relations.”

“In little more than 24 hours this weekend, the Rev. Al Sharpton led a march on Staten Island to protest the death of a black man in police custody, went to Washington to appear on ‘Meet the Press’ and flew to Ferguson, Mo., where on Monday he is to eulogize the 18-year-old black man whose fatal shooting by the police set off days of unrest,” reported Stewart and Horowitz. “In between, Mr. Sharpton talked by phone to Valerie Jarrett, a White House adviser and presidential confidante, who told him that representatives of the Obama administration would be at the funeral for the 18-year-old, Michael Brown.”

Some might argue, instead, that Sharpton has made a career of stoking unnecessary racial tension. For example, the Tawana Brawley case, and the Crown Heights riots in New York in 1991 should be enough to keep him from being held up as an iconic civil rights leader. Scott Johnson of Power Line blog has provided an excellent recap of some of Sharpton’s more egregious activities, as well as his unique relationship with both the White House, and a certain cable network that works daily to be very helpful to President Obama.

Johnson cites an article by Howard Kurtz, formerly with The Washington Post and CNN—now with Fox News—who is “dismayed by Sharpton’s multiple roles,” previously in the Trayvon Martin case, now in the Michael Brown case: “Now we see the same syndrome in the Ferguson tragedy,” writes Kurtz. “Sharpton with the family. Sharpton leading rallies. Sharpton quietly working with Obama. Sharpton denouncing the police on MSNBC. How is this allowed?”

President Obama has been criticized by the black community for not being more vocal about the death of Michael Brown, even though the President has been burned in the past by his comments on the Trayvon Martin case and the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.

But Sharpton has been more than vocal in his opinions about Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Brown. MSNBC titled one segment of Sharpton’s PoliticsNation show, “Still no arrest in Michael Brown shooting.” The implication seems to be that Wilson is guilty of murder, and should be arrested and tried in the courts. But in the Trayvon Martin case, Sharpton publicly and vociferously called for George Zimmerman’s arrest. Zimmerman was later found not guilty of a crime in the case of Martin’s death.

Investor’s Business Daily raises serious questions about Sharpton, calling him Obama’s new Jeremiah Wright, and about Michael Brown. In another piece, IBD looks at the star witness against Wilson, and finds his credibility extremely suspect. All the more reason to allow the wheels of justice to turn, impartially and without political and media pressure, to determine the guilt or innocence of Officer Wilson.

Stewart and Horowitz outline the intimate relationship between Sharpton and the Obama administration in their lengthy feature. He’s been described by Politico as President Obama’s “go-to civil rights advocate,” they write. Then there is this interchange, which is said to have taken place at the 2004 Democratic convention: “He said: ‘Well, reverend, you know, my theme is a little different than yours,’” quoting then-state Senator Barack Obama. “I’m going to try to unite all Americans.” Sharpton replied, “I respect that. You do what you got to do tonight and I’m going to be there applauding.”

“They have since acquired an appreciation for each other’s usefulness,” Stewart and Horowitz cynically report, especially given Sharpton’s “understanding of when to keep his distance.” This comes in sharp contrast to Jeremiah Wright, who proved politically volatile to President Obama during his first presidential campaign.

Sharpton is “rewarded with invitations to White House Super Bowl parties, where he laughs it up with the president,” is a “special host to the president” and “provides the president with protection from his critics in the African-American community,” reports the Times. And, according to Politico, he vacationed at Valerie Jarrett’s condo in Martha’s Vineyard, close to where the President was staying with his family. As for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, Sharpton told the Times that he has a “lot of respect for her.”

What Stewart and Horowitz fail to question is how someone so connected to President Obama that he receives regular invitations to the White House can go on MSNBC and then pretend to be a journalist. Even an opinion journalist. They describe Sharpton as an “incessantly televised pundit,” a “constant presence on TV and radio,” and “a skilled political operator.” The emphasis is on political. It’s all politics for Sharpton—racial politics. His show on MSNBC shouldn’t be considered news, but just an extension of his political ego and activism. It is a stain on the integrity of not just MSNBC, but of NBC as well. They should end this conflict of interest.


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