Three relevant words never appear in this hagiography of the allegedly reverend Al Sharpton.
His ascension to MSNBC’s 6 p.m. anchor slot signifies yet another episode in the long-running, much-debated drama called “The Transformation of Al Sharpton”: from the street-level firebrand who made his name supporting Tawana Brawley in 1988 to a political candidate (twice for Senate, once each for president and mayor of New York) to the Twitter posting, Facebooking, radio-show-hosting modern media figure.
His recent venture into television has attracted the expected condemnations — all of which have missed how unusual MSNBC’s decision really was.
Many polarizing former office holders — Sarah Palin, Eliot L. Spitzer — have been given TV platforms, but Mr. Sharpton is not a former anything. He remains an activist: he is planning to march on Washington next month to call for jobs (an event he expects to cover on his show) and has already done segments on another project, winning the release from death row of a Georgia laborer, Troy Davis, convicted — wrongfully, Mr. Sharpton says — of killing a policeman.
Lumping Palin in with the likes of Sharpton and Spitzer is beyond unfair to her.
As construed by MSNBC, Mr. Sharpton will be a hybrid TV personality, a journalist-participant of sorts, both a maker and a deliverer of the news. “We are breaking the mold,” said Phil Griffin, the network’s president. “Anything he does on the streets, he can talk about on air — we won’t hide anything.”
Though this arrangement may be journalistic, said Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of media at Northeastern University, it is probably not journalism. Its proper name, Professor Kennedy said, is talk-show hosting.
The Times clearly spent some time and effort on this piece, conducting interviews with network principals and Sharpton, yet three words never came up: Freddy’s Fashion Mart.
Aside from that fairly obvious omission, the premise of the Times story — that Sharpton is unique to cable and to MSNBC as a “hybrid like no other” — is provably wrong. The Times says his ratings are encouraging, when he is really getting one-third the audience of Special Report on Fox. His politics are garden variety left wing street fare, no different from Cenk Uygur or Rachel Maddow or anyone else on that network. And Sharpton isn’t even the only political preacher who ran for president who has a cable news show now. Pat Robertson has had his shows for decades, and Mike Huckabee has been on Fox, MSNBC’s director competitor, since September 2008. When Huckabee tried out a daily show, the Times didn’t devote itself to writing about Huck’s wonders. It just published a very matter of fact piece about that show. The Times certainly didn’t try taking entirely mundane TV background conversations and turn them into some kind of Salient Comment on the Man of the Hour.
Mr. Sharpton said he loved his new experiment with television (“It’s challenging”), and, at least for now, television seems to love the challenge of Mr. Sharpton.
In the middle of their production meeting Tuesday night, Mr. Saal’s cellphone rang. It was a representative of Rachel Maddow. She wanted Mr. Sharpton as a guest on her MSNBC show.
“Can you do Maddow?” Mr. Saal asked. Mr. Sharpton said, “Yeah.”
Turning from his phone again, Mr. Saal asked, “9? 9:15?”
Mr. Sharpton said, “Yeah.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Saal told the booker. “He’s good.”
Sheesh. But don’t accuse the NY Times of tilting to the left, now…
As for Sharpton’s show, expect it to last until January 2013.