MSNBC Boss Defends Sharpton Protesting in Trayvon Martin Case While Also Covering It

After years of denying he was trying to pursue a hard-left audience, MSNBC president Phil Griffin is now shamelessly trying to justify his actions in continuing to employ infamous race-baiter and tax cheat Al Sharpton, host of the cable network's Politics Daily program. The latest controversy for Sharpton involves his dual involvement in covering the case of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin on television while at the same time, away from the anchor desk, acting as a belligerent advocate of arresting Martin's killer, George Zimmerman.

Sharpton's conflict of interest, which he barely bothers to disclose to viewers, doesn't bother Griffin; he proudly told AP television reporter David Bauder that he "didn't hire Al to become a neutered kind of news presenter."

"That's not what we do," Griffin added.

That is the current line he's peddling but it isn't what Griffin said before. In 2008, he insisted that his network was "not tied to ideology" but instead employed "smart" anchors, only one of which, Joe Scarborough, had any claim to being something other than a card-carrying Democrat.

All of that is water under the bridge now for MSNBC which has gone all-in to try to attract a hard-left audience:

Sharpton's dual role would have been unthinkable on television 20 years ago and still wouldn't be allowed at many news organizations. While opinionated cable news hosts have become commonplace over the past decade, Sharpton goes beyond talking. [...]

He joined MSNBC's roster of hosts last summer after extensive discussions about how his activist role would continue while on the air. [...]

"We didn't hire Al to become a neutered kind of news presenter," Griffin said. "That's not what we do."

Griffin, talking before Monday's show, said he hadn't seen any conflict with Sharpton's role on and off the air in the Martin case. He said Sharpton had fulfilled his requirement to honest and upfront about his activities, and credited "Politics Daily" with helping to make it a national story.

While the case of Sharpton anchoring coverage of events in which he himself is driving is certainly something that no other television news operation would permit--Fox News head Roger Ailes would be crucified were he to do so--Al Sharpton isn't exactly the only person shilling for his causes on MSNBC. As reported exclusively by NewsBusters, Sharpton's colleague Ed Schultz has received cash payments of over $330,000 from labor unions, something which he has never disclosed to his viewers. Schultz insists he's donated the money to non-political charities but has not presented records proving that this is the case.

In 2010, Griffin suspended now-former host Keith Olbermann for donating money to several congressional Democrats and never disclosing it to viewers. Schultz has faced no discipline for failing to disclose payments he received from labor unions.

While it is good that Sharpton's activist-anchor role is beginning to receive some media scrutiny, it is unfortunate that Schultz being on the take for a political interest group has not received the coverage it deserves.

Sharpton is one of several MSNBC hosts whom NewsBusters publisher and Media Research Center president Brent Bozell called on the network to fire in a letter he sent to Griffin earlier this month.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013