CBS's Harry Smith Pitches Softballs to Al Sharpton

The April 13 edition of "The Early Show" reported on CBS firing Don Imus from the radio for bigoted remarks. To react to the news, anchor Harry Smith interviewed the Reverend Al Sharpton. After hard hitting interviews with Alberto Gonzales and Tony Snow, the CBS anchor seemed disinterested in throwing hard balls to the left wing activist. Smith asked standard questions like what "made it necessary for him not to be on the air," "did he seem like a person who was sorry for what he did," and even asked if Smith’s boss, Les Moonves "gets it."

Although he asked a very mildly worded question about what Sharpton would do about similar language in hip hop music, Smith did not bother to mention his past anti-Semitic comments and the Tawana Brawley case that even the ladies of "The View" discussed. Harry Smith, who covered the Duke lacrosse case dismissal the previous day, did not even see it fit to ask if Sharpton had any regrets from his rush to judgement in Durham. The entire transcript is below.

HARRY SMITH: The Reverend Al Sharpton was one of the first to say that Imus should be fired for his racist and sexist remarks. He joins us live in the studio this morning. Good morning.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON: Good morning.

SMITH: The question I keep hearing is Don Imus has said these kinds of things, and perhaps even worse often over the last couple years even decades. What was it about this incident and these words that you think made it necessary for him not to be on the air?

SHARPTON: You know, when the National Association of Black Journalists raised this to everyone's attention, one of the reasons National Action Network and I got involved is that I, I think that what grabbed was these young ladies represented. I think what all Americans really want to see, and they have struggled against odds, achieved academically and in athletically, actually brought their school to the national championships, and to just dismiss them in this misogynist, racist way, I think it hit a core. I responded more as a father of two young ladies than even the head of the, the civil rights group, National Action Network.

SMITH: He came to your radio show. Did you get a sense of -- did he seem contrite? Did he seem like a person who was sorry for what he did?

SHARPTON: I don't know well enough to make that determination. I don't know if he was really sincere about what he was saying or whether he was trying to keep his job. But in some ways it didn't matter. You have to pay at some point. You have to be accountable for what you do. And the fact that he's done this over and over and apologized before, made that very suspect. I think the real issue for CBS and NBC was policy. Are they going to have a repeated, repeated apologies, do this on the airwaves?

SMITH: You met with Les Moonves yesterday. When you sat across the table from him, what did you see from him that made you think he gets this?

SHARPTON: I mean, he met with many of us, Marc Morial of the Urban League, Jesse Jackson, and Kim Gandy of NOW, all of us in the room. I sensed that he really understood the human side. I think he understood this was not just a regular political issue. And I think that as Mr. Zucker at NBC had already made the move, I think he did what he thought was right. I must say that the inside employees of CBS, he said, had a lot of input and advice. And I think he looked at people who didn't want to be represented that way.

SMITH: We asked him to be on the broadcast this morning. He denied our request. But one of the things he said in the statement, he was talking about Imus: "He has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people. In taking him off the air I believe it's important and a necessary step, not just in solving a unique problem, but in changing that culture, which extends beyond the roles of our company." This isn't just Imus. This kind of language, this kind of misogony, this kind of racism, exists everywhere.

SHARPTON: I think that we've got to really use this as a point to really intensify the struggle to stop this across the board, from even of the blacks that are doing it in the music industry and all that. And our National Action Network convention this week, we are going to with, starting to deal with some of the music industry and others. We had started this, I talked about it when I eulogized James Brown. We're going to intensify it.

SMITH: Will you call, for instance Viacom or CBS radio stations to stop airing -- I have a pile of lyrics right here--

SHARPTON: Oh we're going, we're going to make various calls. We are also going to deal with the record companies that we are told, that tell artists if you don't say certain lyrics you can't get a contract, because we can't sell the music. It's a deep problem and if you stop it with Imus then you've done a disservice to the program.