Noting that MSNBC has given Rev. Al Sharpton his own show, I am compelled to ask: What is broadcast journalism’s accepted criteria now that justifies an individual’s enshrinement as a cable news commentator?
Is it name recognition? The “right” political orientation, in this case, knee-jerk liberal? A ready-made fan base? Theatrical presence? If these are the criteria, by all means, hire Al Sharpton. Hire Alec Baldwin, Donald Trump, Rod Blagojevich and Jane Fonda, too. Gary Busey. Manny Ramirez. Hulk Hogan. Bozo the Clown.
Or is the proper and responsible criteria credibility, integrity, honesty, fairness, and journalistic credentials? If those archaic standards are still in place, or if MSNBC wants to pretend that they are, then the hiring of Sharpton marks a new low in broadcast news coverage cynicism and recklessness.
Most MSNBC viewers probably know nothing of Al Sharpton’s history and background, or how he came to be famous enough to attract the attention and patronage of the progressive alternative to Fox News. Should it matter that Sharpton’s original claim to national fame was using a false rape and abuse charge by Tawana Brawley, a black teenager, to stir up a massive protest, exacerbate local racial tensions and slander local police and prosecutors? Is it significant that Sharpton never apologized for his completely unsubstantiated accusations, and continued to defend his position even after the teen’s story was revealed as a fraud?
Sharpton is a professional race-baiter, even before the Brawley incident began specializing in metaphorically throwing gasoline on smoldering racial controversies. He is willing to shade, manipulate or ignore facts to achieve his objectives, which so thoroughly combine the political, the ideological and his own personal enrichment that it is impossible to determine where one starts and the others begin.
MSNBC’s hiring of Al Sharpton completes the transformation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 screenplay for “Network” from satire to prophesy. The award-winning film portrayed an unscrupulous TV network’s news division employing carnival acts, madmen and buffoons to raise ratings, and being successful at it, as long as success was measured in dollars. Credibility, integrity, honesty, fairness, journalistic credentials? All irrelevant to the fictional, venal and principle-free executives in the film, and obviously irrelevant to MSNBC, too. You don’t care about truth and integrity, or journalistic standards, if you give a cable podium to Al Sharpton.
And imagine: Eliot Spitzer was available!