Named by Business Insider as one of the “11 exclusive clubs Wall Streeters are dying to get into,” the Grand Havana Room is where power brokers and celebrities hobnob with captains of industry in one of the last places where it’s still legal to smoke in the Big Apple.
Immune as I am to the seductions of class resentment and Jacobin envy, I will admit it: I love the place. If invited, and if I could afford it, I’d join.
The one question I have is: Who’s paying for Al Sharpton’s membership?
“The Rev” is an omnipresent member of the club. After his MSNBC show, he’ll swing by for dinner and cigars amid the other Masters of the Universe. I couldn’t confirm that he repaired there after he broadcast his radio show, Keeping It Real, from Zuccotti Park to show his solidarity with the 99-percenters.
The reason I ask who’s paying for his membership is that Sharpton’s relationship with money has always been complicated. When he claimed he didn’t have the resources to pay damages in a defamation suit he lost, Sharpton was asked in a deposition how he could afford his suits. He didn’t own them, he replied, someone else did. He was merely granted “access” to the garments as needed. The same went for his TV, silverware, etc.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. In our overly therapeutic culture, we talk a lot about “enabling” pathologies, self-destructive behavior, etc. Well, Sharpton is a pathology enabled by the very system he loathes.
And vice-versa; as Jeffrey Meyer writes at Newsbusters today, “Despite the clear conflict of interest of a so-called ‘news network’ hiring a man to anchor his own show as he leads highly charged political and racial marches, both MSNBC and the Washington Post can barely recognize the serious ethical and professional problems with employing Sharpton:”
While [Paul Farhi of the Washington Post] does point out that Sharpton’s unique role, carved out by MSNBC President Phil Griffin, has raised questions from outside sources, the harshest critic was journalism prof Lucy Dalglish of the University of Maryland who says Sharpton’s blur in the Trayvon case is a question that will “make for an interesting case study for a journalism ethics class.” She seemed to hold back, concluding “there have got to be some people at NBC who are very troubled by this. Or there should be.”
Instead of really challenging Sharpton’s role, Farhi seems content accepting Griffin’s response that “We didn’t hire him to be just another news host. I knew who we were hiring. He brings to our channel a different voice, and a voice who speaks about issues that are not being talked about regularly anywhere else.”
Even when Farhi makes note of Sharpton’s personal role with the Trayvon Martin family, he brushes them aside as nothing special: “But Sharpton’s involvement with Martin is so extensive that full disclosure isn’t always made. During an appearance this week on NBC’s “Today,” Sharpton said that “ministers” were organizing Saturday’s rally, ignoring his own role.”
To Farhi, just like the folks at MSNBC, the attitude seems to be “nothing to see here, folks” as Sharpton continues to ignore the line between news anchor/activist. The puff piece ends with a quote from Gregory Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists, who defends Sharpton’s dual role: “Reverend Sharpton has never claimed to be a journalist, so therefore, as to the question of the ethics of his participation in protests and rallies surrounding the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I’m not sure that the same rules apply as it would to, say, a reporter or anchor.”
Maybe that question can be answered in a college journalism class, but for now it seems that the folks at the Post and MSNBC are perfectly content allowing an extremist race-baiter drive the news and report on it at the same time.
MSNBC President Phil Griffin told NPR in 2011 that Sharpton is “smart. He’s entertaining. He’s experienced. He’s thoughtful. He’s provocative, all the things I think that MSNBC is.” (And how.) Not to mention keeping him on the payroll keeps MSNBC immune from his vitriolic attacks.
Speaking of which, whenever Sharpton inflames another “mostly peaceful” crowd with his racialism, or someone on MSNBC goes on one of their nightly anti-capitalist jags, assume they’re stopping by the Havana Club as well after the show. It makes the kabuki go down all the more easily.
Update: Being on MSNBC also helps to protect Sharpton. As Jeff Dunetz recently noted, “In Congress: ‘Morning’ Joe Scarborough Introduced Bill To Condem Al Sharpton — On TV: Joe Is Very Quiet.”
Joe doesn’t want the White House emailing him again to complain while he’s on the air.
More: “Polls: George Zimmerman’s Favorability Rating Higher Than Al Sharpton’s.” Now that’s some epic old media failure.