The Case Against Al Sharpton at MSNBC

Critics of the hire are a diverse bunch of liberals, conservatives and black journalists

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Update 12:04 a.m. ET: Rev. Al Sharpton has cancelled his scheduled appearance this week at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conference following criticism by two of its members that MSNBC promoting him would be a mistake given that he's a "non-journalist" celebrity rather than a seasoned reporter. According to Richard Prince at Journal-isms, NABJ secretary Roland Martin tried to reassure Sharpton that those weren't the views of the entire organization but Sharpton "was still upset by that and felt that by coming here and being a part, that would be the story," Martin said.

Following a New York Times report last month that a deal between MSNBC and Rev. Al Sharpton to host his own 6 p.m. show was "imminent," a diverse array of liberals, conservatives, black journalists and media watchdogs have lined up to oppose the Baptist minister and civil rights icon's promotion. Last time we checked in with the reverend, he was rattling sabers with MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanon over the appropriateness of calling President Obama "your boy." This morning, Politico's Keach Hagey interviews Amy Alexander, author of a new book on race and journalism who says the hire would signal further shift from journalism to entertainment. "What’s happening is MSNBC is trying to strike a balance between trying to be a legitimate news outlet, and capturing some of the heat of Fox." Here's who else is lining up against Sharpton's promotion:

Black journalists Early news of Sharpton's forthcoming hire was initially seen as a response to complaints from the NAACP that "there are no African American hosts or anchors on any national news show, cable or broadcast network, from the hours of 5PM-11PM." But the National Association of Black Journalists opposed the decision saying, "This would still be just another non-journalist media 'celebrity' receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent."

Left-leaning pundits Salon blogger Glen Greenwald, a frequent critic of President Obama, expressed doubt in the potential hire, noting Sharpton's unmitigated devotion to the president. He pulls a transcript of a 60 Minutes profile of Sharpton earlier this year:

Sharpton told us that having a black president is a challenge: if he finds fault with Mr. Obama, he'd be aiding those who want to destroy him. So he has decided not to criticize the president about anything -- even about black unemployment, which is twice the national rate.

"How can a media outlet such as MSNBC that purports to be presenting political journalism possibly employ someone as a journalist -- even an opinion journalist -- who publicly and categorically pledges never to criticize the President of the United States under any circumstances?" bristled Greenwald. "That would be like hiring a physician who vows never to treat any diseases, or employing an auto mechanic who pledges never to fix any cars."

Conspiracists Last week, the Times media reporter Brian Stelter noted that when the merger between NBCUniversal and Comcast was announced last year, Sharpton, as president of the National Action Network, "was one of the many activists and boldface names who agreed to support Comcast as it sought government approval for its takeover of NBCUniversal." The underlying suspicion of the article was if Comcast and NBCUniversal offered Sharpton the position in advance, in exchange for his support of the megerg. "Rarely, if ever, has a cable news channel employed a host who has previously campaigned for the business goals of the channel’s parent company. But as channels like MSNBC have moved to more opinionated formats, they have exposed themselves to potential conflicts."

Conservatives Jeff Dunetz at Big Hollywood is still sour over Sharpton's support of Tawana Brawley, a woman who in 1987 claimed she was taken by a group of white men, including a police officer, and raped. A grand jury in New York found she had fabricated the story and the country prosecutor won a defamation suit against Sharpton in the aftermath of the case. "The worst part of that incident was when Sharpton falsely named Steven Pagones, an Assistant District Attorney in Dutchess County, as one of the rapists, and a racist, among other accusations," wrote Dunetz. "Sharpton refused to provide evidence, saying only that they would reveal the facts when the time was right. There was no evidence, and Pagones was soon cleared... Does MSNBC believe that its hosts should be ruining people’s lives with false charges of rape?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.