Sharpton Pushed for Comcast/NBC Merger - And Now Is In Line for Own Show on MSNBC

August 1st, 2011 8:46 AM

Remember how Al Sharpton was among the first black leaders to speak out in favor of Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal?

My recollection of this was vague at best, tending as I do to dismiss nearly everything coming from Sharpton as insignificant, predictable or clownish.

Then after FCC approval of the merger back in January, Sharpton began appearing more often as a guest on MSNBC, a cable network subsidiary of NBC that performs yeoman's work in public relations for the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

A July 27 article at The Daily Beast by Wayne Barrett, "Sharpton's Affirmative-Action Win," asks whether Sharpton's expected new show on MSNBC is "payback" for supporting Comcast's merger with NBC Universal. Barrett's article leaves little doubt as to the answer.

Barrett points out that Michael Copps, a Democrat serving on the FCC since 2001, voted against the merger, saying it "erodes diversity, localism and competition" and was a "stake in the heart of independent content production." Barrett writes --

But Mignon Clyburn, the daughter of South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn and the only minority member of the FCC, threw her decisive support behind the deal, citing a comprehensive diversity memorandum of agreement (MOU)  signed by Sharpton (emphasis added and throughout) as a mechanism that "will serve to keep the new entity honest in promoting diversity."

Without Clyburn, FCC chair Julius Genachowski, the third Democrat on the commission, seems unlikely to have backed the deal, which he did a week after the MOU was sent to the FCC. The MOU was significant because it countered opposition from Jesse Jackson, a variety of black organizations, and some black House Democrats. The then House Judiciary chair, John Conyers, convened combustible hearings last summer in Chicago and Los Angeles, and California Rep. Maxine Waters declared at one that she wasn't interested in hearing how much Comcast had given to "the NAACP, Al Sharpton, and the Urban League," the three entities that eventually signed the MOU.

Shortly before the FCC approved the acquisition, Barrett points out, "Sharpton aggressively championed James Clyburn in his post-election fight to retain his leadership position in the House, while Comcast  contributed $10,500 to Clyburn's political committees." And -- what a shock -- "a Comcast spokesperson told The Daily Beast that Comcast has given $140,000 to Sharpton's National Action Network since 2009 -- the same year the merger was first proposed."

As for that Memorandum of Agreement signed by Sharpton, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous and Urban League president Marc Morial? It required Comcast/NBC to establish minority advisory councils, Barrett reports, with Morial named to chair the African-American panel. Sharpton chose the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, who has chaired his National Action Network board for several years, to sit on the panel. Barrett further writes --

The advisory council met for the first time with Comcast brass in May, but the company says the meeting was confidential, although the MOU itself says its proceedings will be "nonconfidential." Comcast also refuses to release the benchmark study and the master strategic plan it was supposed to develop to implement the MOU promises about diversity, though the agreement says nothing about these documents being confidential. The original memo does specify that employment and procurement progress is confidential, which means that no one will be able to determine whether Comcast's many promises are being kept.

That's why the frequently frowning face of Sharpton on MSNBC prime time may be all we'll know about Comcast/NBC's compliance with its affirmative-action commitments.

Put another way, by the inimitable Yid With Lid --

So Al Sharpton, who in his four days in the host chair (at MSNBC) has shown little or no talent for his new position got the seat to satisfy a diversity initiative set up and blessed by ... hey whattayaknow, Al Sharpton.

All of which makes former MSNBC anchor Cenk Uygur's claim that he was eased out to make way for a more Obama-friendly Sharpton -- despite improved ratings while he worked the 6 p.m. slot for MSNBC -- seem not so far fetched.

Barrett followed up on his July 27 article with an equally interesting Daily Beast read the next day on how Sharpton's support for the Comcast/NBC merger came with another perk -- "riches for his other employer, a niche black-owned radio station."