The Rev. Al Sharpton and MSNBC are being attacked by critics for the network’s recent hiring of Sharpton to replace weekday host Cenk Uygur.
We at NewsOne always liked Uygur, even before his MSNBC show. We consider ourselves to be political progressives. We like MSNBC’s forward lean, in word and often in deed. And we like Sharpton, who has been a strong voice for Black America, and a friend to us here at NewsOne.
But there is something quite hypocritical about the current criticism coming from Uygur, from his liberal colleagues at the Huffington Post, and from investigative reporters at The Daily Beast charging that Sharpton’s ascension at MSNBC is nothing more than a reward for publicly supporting the NBC-Comcast merger, in an alleged mutual back-scratching scheme for his current employer, Radio One.
Sharpton’s critics should know better. In this emerging, merging Web 2.0 media world, we are all in a tangled web of relationships. NewsOne, for those who don’t already know, is owned by Radio One. The Rev. Al Sharpton is a blogger on our platform. Readers may have reason to believe that we’d be predisposed to support Sharpton because of our relationship to him. But Uygur’s colleague at the Huffington Post, Jason Linkins, fulminated at Sharpton and MSNBC without once disclosing that the Huffington Post also provides a platform for Uygur. To make matters more complex, both the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast have cordial relationships with Radio One websites to exchange links to articles on our sites. And Radio One has just solidified a sales partnership with a site that was until now a competitor of ours, TheGrio.com, which is a part of NBC News.
In the new media world, we are all related. The test of journalism in the 21st century is whether news organizations are committed to telling the truth regardless of those relationships.
So let’s tell some truth.
In dumping Uygur for Sharpton, MSNBC has been assailed for dropping a progressive critic of Obama in favor of someone who has stated his support for the president — not his unmitigated support, not his uncritical support, but support nonetheless. What’s missing in this analysis is that Sharpton largely mirrors the Black American viewpoint on this. And until Sharpton, how many Black commentators with their own, branded show did cable news have?
So while we lament that one progressive voice was dimmed to make way for Sharpton, we are disappointed that white American critics who call themselves “progressive” seem to forget that we still are in need of a lot of progress when it comes to Black viewpoints being expressed in mainstream channels, and Black talent being given an equal chance to shine.
Progressives are equally critical on this point. Linkins called Sharpton a non-talent. Others claim that Sharpton is not qualified for the host chair because he is not a journalist.
Of course, Sharpton isn’t a journalist — but neither are many of the hosts of successful cable news shows. These hosts are employed because they can articulate an opinion and galvanize an audience. And Sharpton, even as a replacement host, has been killing it in the ratings, handily beating folks like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. This current ratings success is of course not cited in these media critics’ essays. As for talent, anyone who has seen Sharpton take on his opponents — whether in live debate or tearing into Tea Partiers on MSNBC — would know that Sharpton is indeed the real thing. Linkins stated that he was out of the country when the Uygur-Sharpton switch went down, so perhaps he needs to catch up on his viewing.
Then there are the charges of conflict of interest. Leave aside the aforementioned tangle of relationships, and let’s look at the argument on its merits. NBC and Comcast wished to merge. Whenever large corporations merge, corporations must be accountable to the laws regarding fair and unfair competition; and thus the public and special interests have an opportunity to influence these behemoths to extract concessions that might normally be impossible to get. Sharpton and his National Action Network have, many times in the past, used these occasions to advance the cause of Black American economic well being, for both Black labor and Black capital. And Sharpton, on the occasion of this proposed merger, loudly supported a proposal to mandate a combined NBCU/Comcast entity that will fund several African-American and minority-owned cable networks, a stipulation that has become part of the deal.
That function is Sharpton’s real job — always has been, always will be, no matter how many radio or TV shows he hosts. And yet Wayne Barrett intimates that Sharpton endorsed the deal mainly to enrich his “employer” Radio One (with whom Sharpton has a contract to host a show).
Sharpton would — and has — put it in simpler terms. The NBC-Comcast merger was good for Black business and Black people, period. And if progressives point to Sharpton’s relationship to Radio One as a bad thing, one might ask them this: Wouldn’t a Black-owned media company be crazy not to offer a platform to the most renowned Black political commentator and activist who is not actually a politician? And in a world where their own so-called progressive political platforms give so little of their own platforms to Black commentators and activists, how can they possibly fault Sharpton for taking a good offer? Until the CNNs and FOXes and other media companies follow NBC-Comcast’s decent example of diversity (not just with Sharpton’s MSNBC show, but also with the NBC News-backed site, The Grio), they really have no high ground on which to mount their high horse.
Progressives have long sneered at Sharpton’s tactics to bring corporate America to the bargaining table when it comes to diversity. But when even so-called progressives can’t be counted on to see things from the perspective of the ethnic groups they purport to embrace, is it any wonder that Sharpton makes no apologies?
We, at least, never had to wonder.