Remember when MSNBC suspended Joe Scarborough and Keith Olbermann for making donations to candidates? So how is MSNBC (and NBC) reconciling having Rev. Al Sharpton being both a host...and a lectern-pounding activist for convicted cop-killers and other leftist causes? Obviously, the rules are different now.
Sharpton began his Wednesday night Politics Nation show by boasting about all of the protests he was leading through his group against the Troy Davis execution and how he would be traveling to Washington for more lobbying:
Right now supporters of Troy Davis are holding a vigil that I started this morning outside the state prison. I and National Action Network was there all day speaking out against this travesty. Security was tight. TV satellite trucks were pulling up, protesters were gathering, and emotions were running high....
I've been on this case for the last three years, National Action Network, NAACP, Amnesty International and others, because we felt that no one should face death. Beyond a reasonable doubt being established has been the bar that we use in cases of murder, and clearly in capital cases.
Whatever happens within this hour, we will be in Washington Friday saying that we need federal law that says eyewitness accounts alone, without physical evidence, should not be allowed to establish a capital case.
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On September 18, New York Times reporter Alan Feuer unveiled how MSNBC was changing its rules for the Reverend Al and his persistent protest parade against American racism:
Many polarizing former office holders — Sarah Palin, Eliot L. Spitzer — have been given TV platforms, but Mr. Sharpton is not a former anything. He remains an activist: he is planning to march on Washington next month to call for jobs (an event he expects to cover on his show) and has already done segments on another project, winning the release from death row of a Georgia laborer, Troy Davis, convicted — wrongfully, Mr. Sharpton says — of killing a policeman.
As construed by MSNBC, Mr. Sharpton will be a hybrid TV personality, a journalist-participant of sorts, both a maker and a deliverer of the news. “We are breaking the mold,” said Phil Griffin, the network’s president. “Anything he does on the streets, he can talk about on air — we won’t hide anything.”
Though this arrangement may be journalistic, said Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of media at Northeastern University, it is probably not journalism. Its proper name, Professor Kennedy said, is talk-show hosting.
"Maybe a talk-show host shouldn't have to follow the entire code of ethics for a journalist," Professor Kennedy said, "but he shouldn't be able to run roughshod and function as pure political activist. "
That's Dan Kennedy, a liberal former media critic for The Boston Phoenix, questioning his own side's media ethics. But Griffin and Sharpton sound united on the new plan to let the old no-donation/no-activism rules slide:
“The guy’s terrific on TV,” Mr. Griffin said. “He’s smart, he’s got great life experience. He brings a different voice to our network. And he was at a point in his career where he needed a bigger platform.” As for the journalistic questions, Mr. Sharpton said they were solved by frankness and transparency.
"I've known Phil Griffin for a long time," Mr. Sharpton said. "He said, `You can't do partisan politics unless we're aware of it and we talk it out.' I said, `My activism is not affected?' He said, `No.' He said, `You do advocacy on education, police brutality, all those things - we have no problem.' " (Mr. Griffin agreed with this summary of events.)
In an e-mail, David McCormick, vice president for standards at NBC News, said that Mr. Sharpton's activism would be acceptable so long as his employers knew what he was up to: "He may participate in such events with prior approval from the network president."
Feuer was skeptical enough of this to suggest Sharpton's never been much of a rule follower. But true to The New York Times,
His ratings have so far been encouraging, network officials say. His audience (about 630,000 people a night) is up 4 percent over Mr. Uygur's and he occupies the No. 2 slot for cable news in the 6 o'clock hour, behind "Special Report," a competing show on Fox News. (The network won't disclose what it is paying him, but a source close to Mr. Sharpton puts the figure at about $500,000 a year.)
Feuer skated over that little divergence in the ratings, a gap of about 3 to 1 in viewers. The September 20 numbers were 1.69 million for Bret Baier to 679,000 for Sharpton. He concluded: "Mr. Sharpton said he loved his new experiment with television ('It's challenging'), and, at least for now, television seems to love the challenge of Mr. Sharpton." The proof of this axiom is that other shows on MSNBC wanted to book him, possibly because Griffin thinks he's so "terrific on TV" he's spreading him across the network.