Leslie Savan, who blogs on media/political issues for the Nation, thinks there’s now a meaty question about Al Sharpton (whether he can be, as the headline to Savan’s Wednesday post put it, “both an activist and a fair TV anchor”) that’s somewhat obscured by “right-wing hysteria” rooted in conservatives’ “refus[al] to see that Sharpton has mellowed or changed at all: they need him to forever be a radical and a race hustler.”
Savan doesn’t object to conservatives’ disgust with Sharpton for his role in the Tawana Brawley hoax (she neglects to mention other reasons for it, such as the Crown Heights riots) but griped that “because he’s the best-known single figure in the growing protest movement, the right will blame him for any violence.”
From Savan’s post (emphasis added):
With [Sharpton’s] front-stage involvement in the Ferguson and Eric Garner protests and this Saturday’s march on Washington against police brutality, the Rev is, once again, the target of pop parody and right-wing hysteria. But…he’s also the target of some perfectly valid scrutiny of his potentially conflicting roles of activist and cable news anchor...
The right wing…won’t forget his handling of the Tawana Brawley case (and for his part, Sharpton won’t admit it was a hoax, which is like Governor Chris Christie’s refusing to admit there was never a traffic study), and maybe they shouldn’t. But the right also refuses to see that Sharpton has mellowed or changed at all: they need him to forever be a radical and a race hustler.
Because he’s the best-known single figure in the growing protest movement, the right will blame him for any violence, when, in fact, as New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton told Don Imus last week, Sharpton has been helping to promote the peace, as he did in Staten Island rallies earlier this year. In any case, this new grassroots civil rights movement has grown far beyond Sharpton, and perhaps any one leader.
The more relevant question about Sharpton is the one asked by Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s media-watch show, Reliable Sources. Given his prominence as an activist and newsmaker himself, “Are there ethical issues for MSNBC to have Sharpton anchor every night?”
It’s not just that Sharpton’s wearing both the anchor and the activist hats. “It’s more complicated than that,” Stelter said. “He’s wearing like seven hats,” including those of preacher, fundraiser, adviser to Obama, confidant of NYC mayor Bill De Blasio, and “importantly,” said Stelter, “a grief counselor to families in need like [Michael] Brown’s family. And, finally, he seems to be coordinating their media appearances.”
…“I think for the first time [since Sharpton started hosting PoliticsNation in 2011] it’s probably gotten a little bit sticky,” NY1 anchor Erroll Lewis told Stelter. “When you see him interviewing somebody who he’s also representing and then he goes to the Justice Department or to the White House, you have to wonder, who in all of this is he really speaking to and for?”…
It is complicated, indeed, as are most conflicts of interest involving media and political cross-dressers. Fox News hands out shows and/or lucrative contributor deals to any politico it wants to—Mike Huckabee, Scott Brown, Sarah Palin—until and if they run for office…
Personally, I’m not bothered by Sharpton’s other roles…As long as a news or an opinion show is backed up by good journalism, why not extend diversity to include other professions and backgrounds? Comedians like Jon Stewart and John Oliver are doing a kind of journalism, as much as Stewart tries to deny it, and doing it well.