Marc Lamont Hill Insists Al Sharpton No Different Than Hannity Or Beck

Following the death of Michael Brown and the ensuing protests in Ferguson, Missouri, one topic of conversation that has drawn a lot of attention is whether or not Al Sharpton can serve as both an activist and be the host of a daily MSNBC program.

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Marc Lamont Hill, CNN contributor and HuffPost Live host, defended Sharpton’s dual roles and argued that “Al Sharpton is no different than Sean Hannity. He's no different than Glenn Beck was. He's no different than many pundits who had TV shows.” [See video below.] 

Hill’s comments came in response to Crystal Wright, editor of the blog Conservativeblackchick.com, who lambasted Shaprton as someone who should not have a television show while proclaiming to be an activist:

I don't even consider Al Sharpton an activist. I consider him more of an instigator of race wars and racial tensions in America. He's been doing this for the last 30-plus years. He did this with Tawana Brawley way back in the '80s. 

Wright’s dismissal of Sharpton resulted in Hill rushing to defend the MSNBC host: 

Any definition of activist he fits whether you like his level or type of activism is a different conversation. Al Sharpton would not also argue that he is an objective journalist. I don't think it's unfair to say that he is somehow failing to live up to a standard of journalism. Al Sharpton is a commentator. Al Sharpton is no different than Sean Hannity. He's no different than Glenn Beck was. 

The CNN contributor continued to show his enthusiastic support for the controversial Sharpton:

I don't think anyone in America thinks that Al Sharpton is trying to tow the line here, that he's trying to play the middle. There's not a person in America who doesn't think that Al Sharpton leans left and deals with the issues of race. And I think at times that work is necessary because when you talk about Trayvon Martin, that story took months before it hit the national scene. It only hit the national scene because of activists, because of people who wanted to put a spotlight on it.

While Hill may be correct that Sharpton and Beck have both been activists during their careers, Glenn Beck never instigated race riots and certainly was never involved in a hoax such as the Tawana Brawley rape allegation. Furthermore, Sean Hannity, unlike Sharpton, has never claimed to be an activist while serving as a host on Fox News. Wright made this point as she seemed dismayed that anyone would compare the racial activities of Sharpton to that of Beck and Hannity. 

Sean Hannity is not professing to be some kind of activist. And you are right, Marc, journalism today is very much about an opinion, and Al Sharpton certainly has a lot of opinion. But it's not helpful when he jumps the gun like he did in Trayvon Martin's case. You all talk about putting a spotlight on Trayvon Martin's death.

See relevant transcript below.


CNN

Reliable Sources

August 17, 2014

BRIAN STELTER: Well, here's the media question here about Sharpton. He's always been an activist. So, should he also anchor a show? Let me ask Marc Lamont Hill of "Huffington Post Live" host and a CNN commentator. And Crystal Wright, editor of the blog, ConservativeBlackChick.com. Crystal, do you think it's appropriate that Al Sharpton has this platform every night on MSNBC?

CRYSTAL WRIGHT, CONSERVATIVEBLACKCHICK.COM: No. I think Al Sharpton.  I don't even consider Al Sharpton an activist. I consider him more of an instigator of race wars and racial tensions in America. He's been doing this for the last 30-plus years. He did this with Tawana Brawley way back in the '80s. This is what he does. But the crazy thing about it is, MSNBC has now given him a show and he tries to, you know, come off as an objective journalist and he's anything but. As you mentioned, Brian --

STELTER: Do you think he comes off as a journalist? I don't think he would say he's a journalist.

WRIGHT: Well, why should he have a show -- oh, I don't think he should be called a journalist. I don't think he should be called a civil rights advocate. He hasn't advocated for peace and justice in over three decades, Brian.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN COMMENTATOR: A couple of things here. First, Al Sharpton is -- whether we like him or not, and I happen to like him -- but whether we like him or not, he's certainly an activist. That's what he does. Any definition of activist he fits whether you like his level or type of activism is a different conversation. Al Sharpton would not also argue that he is an objective journalist. I don't think it's unfair to say that he is somehow failing to live up to a standard of journalism. Al Sharpton is a commentator. Al Sharpton is no different than Sean Hannity. He's no different than Glenn Beck was. He's no different than many pundits who had TV shows --

STELTER: This is the brave new world we live in where cable news shows are sometimes hosted by people who are involved in the stories they're covering. But I understand why that makes people uncomfortable, Marc.

HILL: I don't think anyone in America thinks that Al Sharpton is trying to tow the line here that he's trying to play the middle. There's not a person in America who doesn't think that Al Sharpton leans left and deals with the issues of race. And I think at times that work is necessary because when you talk about Trayvon Martin, that story took months before it hit the national scene. It only hit the national scene because of activists, because of people who wanted to put a spotlight on it.
STELTER: Yes, some journalists were covering it before al Sharpton arrived, even some here at CNN. But Sharpton's presence in Florida for the Trayvon Martin case did put a national spotlight on it. And, by the way, MSNBC, I talked to a person there who said in some cases, he has brought more attention to issues that we should be covering, for example, voting rights issues.

HILL: Exactly.

STELTER: Let me pull the up a quick statement from the president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, when I reached out for comment. He said, "Al Sharpton is both the president of the National Action Network and a host on MSNBC. We've always been transparent about the dual roles and his work outside of MSNBC."

HILL: Seems reasonable to me.

WRIGHT: Well, Sean Hannity is not professing to be some kind of activist. And you are right, Marc, journalism today is very much about an opinion, and Al Sharpton certainly has a lot of opinion. But it's not helpful when he jumps the gun like he did in Trayvon Martin's case. You all talk about putting a spotlight on Trayvon Martin's death. 

Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.