Exclusive: Why Sharpton Cancelled NABJ Appearance
"I didn't want to be a distraction"
Last week, Rev. Al Sharpton was scheduled to speak on a panel at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention in Philadelphia. At the last minute, though, he pulled out. This morning, Sharpton called Loop 21 to explain what happened:
Loop 21: Did you cancel your NABJ appearance because you were upset about the MSNBC show controversy?
Rev. Al Sharpton: Absolutely not. The NABJ members have the right to criticize and do whatever they want to do. However, [the MSNBC controversy] would have been a distraction for what I was invited to come speak about. I was invited to come speak about politics and the upcoming presidential election. If they had invited me to talk about whether advocates and activist organizations should host talk shows, I would have considered coming to discuss those kinds of things. But to put me on a political panel and then for it to go into something else about MSNBC, that wouldn’t have been good.
Can you understand the criticism that more black journalists are needed to host cable TV news shows?
I think that criticism is right but that is not what is being discussed right now. What is being discussed is that I’ve been asked to anchor a news show, which is wrong because I’ve not been asked by MSNBC about anchoring a news show. I’m being considered for anchoring a show that is designed around talking with people who have a particular point of view on various issues of the day.
If people would look, they'd know that there are no journalists on MSNBC past 5 p.m. on any given day. What is a little humorous to me is that journalists don’t understand what the format is for what it is they are talking about. Look at the MSNBC evening lineup -- if I took a hosting job, I would be replacing a guy from YouTube. The “Young Turks” are not journalists. Rachel Maddow was a radio talk show host before she got her MSNBC show. So it’s laughable because the format they are talking about is not a news format. We had other activists host shows before, like Jesse Jackson.
Some argue that you're being considered because you gave MSNBC's president Phil Griffin an award at the National Action Network national convention. How do you respond?
All they have to do is look at the tape to see why we gave out that award, which was because MSNBC has made commitments on diversity. I have to say, you would think journalists would do their research before forming a conclusion. If you want to look at that award, one of the main reasons we gave them that award is because over the last two years we ended our National Action Network conference with a two-hour black agenda special on MSNBC, which I negotiated with MSNBC's Phil Griffin who got the award. So why wouldn’t we give it to him? Why wouldn’t we salute the people who gave us two hours on their network to do the black agenda special at the end of our convention? It was on that special, if you recall, that Cornel West and I had our infamous confrontation. Why would we give someone like CNN an award, who would not work with us, and not the people who for the second year gave us the black agenda special at the end of our convention?
I understand criticism only came from a few black journalists, but you pulled out of the entire NABJ convention panel. Do you feel your relationship with black journalists in general is strained?
For the journalists who do work with me – and remember, I do a talk show every day – those journalists who work with me think this is outrageous. Given the history, what exactly is new about this? Second, you’d think someone would even pick up a phone to ask me is he doing this show, and if so, what is the format? People are making conclusions based off their assumptions. I’ve been guilty of this too in the past, so I understand it, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that people are rushing to judgment. I always have supported black journalists. I called CNN when Eliot Spitzer was fired and told them they need to put someone black in to replace him. CNN actually does journalism in the evening. MSNBC does not have journalists hosting shows in the evening. FOX does not do journalism in the evening.
Every journalist doesn’t know how to do this format. Just because you work with the New York Times doesn’t mean you have what it takes to do a talk show. Stanley Crouch writes a column in the New York Daily Post, but that doesn’t mean he can host a TV talk show. There are a lot of assumptions going on here. If I was MSNBC’s president and I wanted a host for a show with an opinionated format then I would talk to someone who hosts a radio talk show, not someone who writes for a newspaper.
This is Part 1 of our exclusive interview with Rev. Sharpton. Check back for Part 2.