MSNBC obliterated the notion of separating cable-news hosts and their political activism when the network brass gave Rev. Al Sharpton a nightly show two years ago. It was just another day at the office when Sharpton held a rabble-rousing rally for Trayvon Martin in the afternoon and then covered it on his show hours later.
But Saturday's rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's March on Washington was the most dramatic conflict of interest yet. Sharpton organized the rally (with Martin Luther King III), and MSNBC aired huge chunks of it live, including all 20 minutes of Sharpton's screaming keynote speech. An MSNBC press release said they'd be promoting the rally from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
On Friday night, MSNBC gave Sharpton two hours of "pre-game" to promote the rally. On Sunday morning, he appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" to pose as Reverend King. On Sept. 6, MSNBC will give Sharpton yet another two hours in prime time for an "Advancing the Dream" special.
Tawana Brawley's enabler rules.
None of the media columnists and TV news blogs could muster any space to explore how Sharpton's weekend demonstrates he has invaded MSNBC and conquered it completely. The subject is apparently exhausted. Everyone expects zero norms of journalistic detachment and professionalism. Everyone seems comfortable with the revolution. The inmates are running the asylum, making grandiose claims about their place in American politics. Sharpton wants to be the modern-day black Moses, fuming righteously against hard-hearted tea party pharaohs.
Tampa Bay Times media columnist Eric Deggans claimed, "Any concern that Sharpton might be unfairly blurring lines between fair-minded pundit and committed activist seemed long gone Saturday night, as the crowd surged toward another rendezvous with history."
Sharpton is never a mere pundit, and "fair-minded" has never described his vicious race-baiting ways. Sharpton explicitly promised in his speech to take his National Action Network staff to Texas and North Carolina and lobby against Republican governors on the allegedly racist outrage of being asked to provide an ID on Election Day. On Monday, Sharpton made another visit to the Obama White House to advise the president.
Deggans boasted this event "cemented Al Sharpton's blend of cable news anchoring and activism" and "proved the ascendancy of Sharpton's brand." There is no doubt that Sharpton's brand is on the rise, but one cannot say the same for the brand of NBC News. At this point, Sharpton's brand and the NBC News brand are indistinguishable. They ought to put Sharpton's face on the Peacock at this point.