Al Sharpton's Relevance Touted by Washington Post

The rise of Barack Obama with a message of racial reconciliation has led some to question whether race-baiting leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are yesterday’s news. But on the front page of Wednesday’s Washington Post came a rebuttal, a news story headlined "Not Relevant? Sharpton Scoffs at the Idea: Activist’s Busy Calendar and Ringing Phone Speak to His Role in Civil Rights." Reporter Keith Richburg toyed with the idea of an irrelevant Sharpton, but the lion’s share of his story worked on shoring up his clout. All the Democratic presidential contenders are seeking his endorsement, reported Richburg. After his high-profile turns in getting Don Imus fired and the "Jena 6" celebrated, Sharpton declared "smiling contentedly over coffee" in the story, "I think this has been a banner year, to say the least...This year proved the real revival of civil rights activism."Richburg barely mentioned the FBI and IRS probes into the finances of Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign, which Sharpton ascribed to Justice Department retaliation for his protests there in the Jena controversy. On December 14, the Post relegated the new Sharpton probe to an 86-word brief on page A-16, underneath another item from Omaha: "Mall Gunman’s Mother Apologizes." The story was not only brief, but told from Sharpton’s perspective.

Sharpton Assails U.S. Authorities Over ProbesNEW YORK -- Al Sharpton denounced federal authorities for investigating him and his National Action Network's finances, suggesting that the Justice Department is retaliating against him for his civil rights advocacy. "I have probably been under every investigation known to man, and I can't remember a time that I've not been under investigation," he said. The FBI and the Internal Revenue Service are investigating him for possible tax fraud and for possible campaign finance violations stemming from his 2004 presidential bid, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Richburg’s story could be a rebuttal to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote in the Post's Sunday Outlook section on October 28 that Sharpton was irrelevant, a joker assigned to black America by a white media:

There's another reason why the media have elected the reverend president of black America. For cable networks, Sharpton is the gift that keeps on giving. He provides an easily disposable villain, a simple out for his most loyal constituency: white racists. For those who already doubted the humanity of black folks, who believe that we spend our days counting the ways white people owe us, who think we chant "Reparations now!" at least once every seven minutes, the bombastic Sharpton is a perfect confirmation.

UPDATE: A New Republic blogger dismisses Richburg's work with a sexual innuendo, adds that Sharpton's role in Jena protests is overblown.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis