NBC's Today Show Invites on Two Liberals To Analyze Glenn Beck Rally

NBC's Matt Lauer, on Monday's Today show, invited on the not-so balanced panel of the Reverend Al Sharpton and the NAACP's Ben Jealous to analyze Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally that took place on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" with Jealous proclaiming that "if Dr. King stood up there" the conservatives in attendance would not have "responded well" to him. Jealous went on to say Dr. King's "last campaign" was the "poor people's campaign. To make sure that all people...can find a good job, all kids can go to a great school. And Mr. Beck, that's not what he talks about. And that's not, that doesn't seem to be what he actually wants." This led Lauer, ignoring the fact that rally attendees also want those things, that they just differ on the methods to get there, to observe: "It seems like you guys are saying, without saying, that you're looking at what happened and you're looking at Glenn Beck as somewhat of a wolf in sheep's clothing."

The following Kelly O'Donnell set-up piece and Lauer interview with Sharpton and Jealous was aired on the August 30 Today show:

ANN CURRY: As Brian mentioned, talk show host Glenn Beck drew a big crowd at the National Mall in Washington this weekend including guest speaker Sarah Palin for a controversial rally he called "Restoring Honor." NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has a wrap-up now. Kelly, good morning.

[On screen headline: "Rallying The Faithful, Glenn Beck 'Restoring Honor' Rally Draws Thousands"]

KELLY O'DONNELL: Hi, Ann. There is still so much to debate this morning. From the size of the crowd -- was it 80,000 or as Brian mentioned, more than 300,000 -- to the motives behind calling the rally for this place on a very famous anniversary. Now Glenn Beck did try to set one rumor straight. He says he and Sarah Palin won't be running for anything. Beck says he has zero political aspirations.

GLENN BECK: It has nothing to do with politics! It has everything to do with God!

O'DONNELL: Conservative media star Glenn Beck insisted on that "no politics" distinction. Still, the massive rally easily looked like a political event.

SARAH PALIN: We must restore America and restore her honor!

O'DONNELL: Beck did not criticize President Obama from the stage but has been harsh, even calling Mr. Obama racist last year.

BECK: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.

O'DONNELL: Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Beck said he now regrets that comment.

BECK: It shouldn't have been said. It was poorly said, and it was not accurate.

O'DONNELL: Back at the rally, many who came from around the country did criticize the President's politics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I believe in our Constitution, and this administration doesn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I, I cannot disagree with our president more. I believe he's leading this country in the wrong direction.

O'DONNELL: Others criticized the time and place, held on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Beck called that timing a coincidence. He and Palin praised King.

PALIN: We feel the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

O'DONNELL: But civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton led a smaller, competing rally.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON: They want to disgrace this day! And we're not giving them this day! This is our day, and we ain't giving it away!

O'DONNELL: The context is full of tension. Beck also said his rally would reclaim the civil rights movement.

BECK: Meaning people of faith that look at equal justice and look at every man the same. That's who needs to reclaim it, not the politicians. Not the parties. Not white people or black people.

O'DONNELL: And Beck tried to sort of shape some of the imagery here. He had asked some of the followers not to bring signs and often signs at these sort of events, if they have controversial images or words attract a lot of negative attention. And interestingly Beck said he regretted those words calling the President a racist but said he was not retracting them, simply amending them. Matt?

LAUER: Kelly O'Donnell, Kelly thanks very much. As you just heard the Reverend Al Sharpton led his own rally this weekend. Ben Jealous is the president of the NAACP. Guys, good morning to both of you.

AL SHARPTON: Good morning.

BEN JEALOUS: Good morning.

LAUER: So much talk leading up to this rally, Reverend Sharpton, and now so much analysis afterward, people worried about the timing, the date, the location, the 47th anniversary of Dr. King's speech, thinking it was some kind of political rally masquerading as a non-partisan rally for patriotism and responsibility. In the end, wasn't it fairly uneventful?

SHARPTON: Yeah and, and you wonder whether that was designed that way because, just remember now it was Mr. Beck himself that was saying this is gonna be to "reclaim civil rights. I'm gonna do this and that," attacking the President. And then he comes and does none of that. So I don't know if it was his promotion or whether we're seeing the true political strategy.

LAUER: But when I, but when I saw you speaking there at your own rally saying "we're not gonna let him have this day, this is our day," in the end is it a case of "never mind?" I mean was there no offense?

SHARPTON: No, what the offense is to try and cast that as civil rights. Blacks, whites, we had many speakers of all races that are legitimately in civil rights, union leaders, the Secretary of Education, people that are trying to deal with the inequality in this country. We're not talking about the day didn't belong to blacks or whites. The day does belong to those that believe in what Dr. King's dream was about.

LAUER: Mr. Jealous there were many people at that rally who said we need to honor the legacy of Dr. King. When you watched and listened to what happened on the Mall there, what was your gut reaction?

JEALOUS: My gut reaction was that if Dr. King stood up there, if he came back or somebody read his speech, that, that crowd wouldn't have responded well to the full text of his speech. You know we are here to finish Dr. King's last campaign, the poor people's campaign. To make sure that all people in this country can find a good job, all kids can go to a great school. And Mr. Beck, that's not what he talks about. And that's not, that doesn't seem to be what he actually wants.

LAUER: Here's from an op-ed in the New York Times this morning: "One could also call the day a strange, unlooked for fulfillment of King's prophecies. Forty-seven years after the "I have a dream" speech here were tens of thousands of white conservatives roaring their approval of its author."

SHARPTON: But not applauding the content, because it was never discussed. Because in the speech Dr. King addressed unemployment and the plight of the poor, police brutality. And when we have an America where we can applaud where everyone is treated the same, that is the fulfillment of Dr. King.

LAUER: It seems like you guys are saying, without saying, that you're looking at what happened and you're looking at Glenn Beck as somewhat of a wolf in sheep's clothing.

SHARPTON: No I think it's a political strategy, possibly. I think every time we see the right wing, when we get in an election, they bring out God and country. Jerry Falwell did it one era. We had to deal with it, with same-sex marriage with George Bush. So I think now we see - Barry Goldwater did it in Dr. King's day. Now I think Mr. Beck has started the, what we're seeing in the midterm, that they're going to again, try to use religion rather than really deal with the real issues. I'm a minister, I want us to turn to God-

LAUER: Right.

SHARPTON: -but I want us to turn to God but I want us to turn to God in a fair and equal way.

LAUER: Is perhaps the most disappointing thing, Mr. Jealous, that we have two rallies, same city, same day, and one is predominantly white and the other is predominantly African-American? Would that not disappoint Dr. King?

JEALOUS: You know we are, on October 2nd, we'll have a rally called "One Nation." It'll be a large rally. It will be there at the Lincoln and you'll see people of all faiths coming. We have 3000 buses confirmed right now and you can look at who's gonna be driving those buses and you will see Dr. King's dream made manifest. But let's not forget that, that the rally was in D.C. and our crowd is very much a local crowd. You saw from the speakers there at, you know Gianette Margia, Secretary Duncan, a wide range of people, and those are the folks who are coming together for the "One Nation" rally and will be leading their folks there.

SHARPTON: But I think Matt-

LAUER: Quickly if you will.

SHARPTON: -you've got to remember Dr. King was also criticized so criticized in '63 for having mostly blacks there. We are trying to transform the country to make it one. The difference between Al Roker and an Al Sharpton, he gives the climate. I try to help change the climate.

LAUER: You saved up for that one, didn't you?

SHARPTON: I always save one for you.

LAUER: Nice. Appreciate it. Guys, good to have you here.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.