Politico Reports MSNBC Host Al Sharpton Was Obama’s Eyes and Ears In Ferguson

In yet more proof that MSNBC has absolutely no sense of journalistic detachment from the Obama White House or political activism in the streets, Politico’s Glenn Thrush is reporting that Team Obama was plumbing Sharpton for information he gleaned on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

"Sharpton—so often criticized for being a self-promoter—finds himself in the unusual position of being too close to a White House that seems to be losing power by the day, " Thrush wrote. But Sharpton is still boasting that it was his sincerity that bonded him with the president: 

Over the years, the 59-year-old former Brooklyn protest leader turned MSNBC talk-show host has embraced a new identity, one that reflects his evolution from agitator to insider with all that implies. In Ferguson, Sharpton established himself as a de facto contact and conduit for a jittery White House seeking to negotiate a middle ground between meddling and disengagement.

“There’s a trust factor with The Rev from the Oval Office on down,” a White House official familiar with their dealings told me. “He gets it, and he’s got credibility in the community that nobody else has got. There’s really no one else out there who does what he does.”

And the White House, as the crisis following Brown’s death seemed to flare out of control, worked extensively behind the scenes to maximize The Rev’s doing what he does, using him as both a source of information and a go-between. After huddling with Brown’s family and local community leaders, Sharpton connected directly with White House adviser and First Friend Valerie Jarrett, vacationing in her condo in the exclusive Oak Bluffs section of Martha’s Vineyard, not far from where President Obama and his family were staying. Obama was “horrified” by the images he was seeing on TV, Jarrett told Sharpton, and proceeded to pepper him with questions as she collected information for the president: How bad was the violence? Was it being fueled by outside groups—and could Sharpton do anything to talk them down? What did the Brown family want the White House to do? [Italics in the original.]

If anything, the Ferguson crisis has underscored Sharpton’s role as the national black leader Obama leans on most, a remarkable personal and political transformation for a man once regarded with suspicion and disdain by many in his own party. It’s a status made all the more surprising given that Obama, America’s first black president, ran on a platform of moving beyond the country’s painful racial divisions while Sharpton is the man who once defined those divisions for many Americans.

What brought them together, according to numerous sources I’ve spoken with about this over the years, is a shared commitment to racial justice, and a hardheaded pragmatism that has fueled their success. “He realized I wasn’t as irrational or as crazy as people thought,” Sharpton told me in an interview this week, and indeed Sharpton not only visits the White House frequently, he often texts or emails with senior Obama officials such as Jarrett and Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that job and who, like Sharpton, views the Ferguson crisis as a pivotal one in Obama’s presidency.

“I’ve known Al since he was 12 years old, and he’s arrived at the level he always wanted to arrive at, which is gratifying,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a colleague and sometimes rival, told me. “He’s the man who’s the liaison to the White House, he’s the one who’s talking to the Justice Department....”


“He’s calculating ... he gets the game,” Sharpton recently told an associate when asked about why he’s bonded with Obama.

“The relationship evolved over time,” Sharpton explained to me. “I realized he was just a different kind of guy. ... He wasn’t going to be guided by emotions. He was not intimidated. There was no game you could play [with him]. The key for him was seeing that I wasn’t insincere, that I actually believed in the stuff I was talking about.”

Thrush wrapped up by repeating how Sharpton’s life is a complete blur of activism and alleged journalism/punditry: “He’s taken a front-and-center role in leading the protests following the chokehold killing of a black Staten Island man at the hands of police—and will lead a huge rally in New York’s smallest and whitest borough on Saturday before appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday and heading back to Missouri for Michael Brown’s funeral.”

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