When Sharpton Argued Degrading Comments Were Simply Free Speech

On his show tonight, Bill O’Reilly asked Al Sharpton if he was going to go after the rap music “stars” who consistently denigrate women and glamorize violence. The Rev told Bill that after “getting rid of Mr. Imus”, his National Action Network will “start looking” at some of the corporations that backed Imus. Sharpton claimed that some of those corporations also own some of the record companies. Sharpton told O’Reilly that this was “just the beginning of a long war” to deal with this type of language and behavior.

But in March 2005 Sharpton defended the content of rap music while condemning the violence surrounding the industry. He made it quite clear that it was “not about the lyrics” but the violence committed by the rap artists. Sharpton even went so far as to invoke the rap artists’ First Amendment rights to rap and sing about violent acts. Here is what Sharpton had to say in his March 9, 2005 interview on CNN...

I'm not talking about lyrics. I'm not talking about content. I'm talking about when an artist engages in violence that the FCC and advertising and radio stations have the right, as we do in sports, to say wait a minute, you cannot conduct yourself in that way, and say that you're going to use federally-regulated airwaves to promote your albums if you are, in fact, engaging in violence. Not singing about it, not rapping about it, but do a violent act.

And if they're going to rap about it and sing about it, they have the First Amendment right. But if they do it, they don't have the right then to expect the airwaves to say that it's conduct that we're going to promote.

They have the right to talk about the violence they come from. I come from that violence, but I do not have the right to go out and engage in violence, and then ask the federal airwaves to allow me to continue in my career like it's nothing.

Again now, I'm not talking about content. I'm talking about actual acts of violence. Are we condoning them by not putting a standard in the business?

In an April 2005 interview on Hannity and Colmes, Sharpton again defended the lyrics using the First Amendment.

HANNITY: You know what bothers me? You know, I guess there's a lot of ways in life that you can make money, Reverend Al. There's a lot of ways you can make money, but when you do it on human misery this way, it's just like some of the more violent rap lyrics that degrade women, degrade, you know, humanity the way they do. Refer to women the way they do. It's amazing to me that — why do people patronize, you know...

SHARPTON: I think the issue is patronage. I mean, I've said that I'm against rewarding people for violent acts. But people have the right to say what they want or do what they want. We also have the right to boycott it. The First Amendment also means you can...

So degrading women by word is protected by the First Amendment if the words are part of Rap Music lyrics? It’s okay to use the “N-word” as long as it is in rap music format? If Imus had "rapped" his comments would there still be an uproar? Would Sharpton defend the statements using the First Amendment excuse? Would Sharpton still be calling for getting rid of Imus?

The hypocrisy underwhelms me…

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