Apparently, Rev. Sharpton has been filling in for host Cenk Uygur while he has been on vacation, and the network’s ratings have benefited from the substitution, beating out both CNN and HLN and trailing just behind Fox News. So, MSNBC has reportedly offered him a show in the 6 pm time slot.
But the black media does not seem to be very happy about this news…
The NAACP recently criticized CNN about the lack of “diversity” in its new prime-time lineup, the NAACP’s president, Ben Jealous, calling it a “glaring omission”. The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) also spoke up saying, “Exacerbating the issue is the fact that CNN has several times passed over its own qualified African-American journalists for prime-time posts in favor of whites who possess celebrity (Piers Morgan) or infamy (Spitzer).” (Can I get an “Amen”?) Yet, news of Al Sharpton’s possible appointment at MSNBC did not spark offers of congratulations or excitement.
One NABJ member labeled it as another “non-journalist media ‘celebrity'” being promoted over the many hard-working, accomplished, and experienced black journalists. The subject appears to have gotten touchy enough for Rev. Sharpton to have responded to the criticism. In an interview with The Root, he stressed that he was “an advocate, not a journalist” in addition to stressing the “need” for black media and advocates alike “to be united.”
I for one think that Rev. Sharpton is right.
It is no secret that Al Sharpton is a polarizing figure in the black community and in society in general. His character, commitment, and “celebrity” status are topics of regular debate. Without getting into that debate here, I think it is safe to say that whether you love Al Sharpton or you hate him, you have to pay attention to him, and the attention that he generates has brought many important issues in the black community that might have otherwise been ignored or swept under the rug to the forefront. (If you don’t think that’s safe to say, and in case you don’t live in the NYC area, I’ll just say: Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, just to name a few, and you can google them).
Still, haters in the black community are making their presence known, subtly and not so subtly. “The Rev. has been a natural on the show [as a temporary host] and why shouldn’t he be?”, one blog asks. “He’s had years of TV experience by now.” “There’s definitely never been any question about whether Sharpton loves the camera — but who knew how much it loved him back?”, The Root quips. Seriously, people?
I can only imagine how discouraging being passed over must be to the multitudes of black journalists whose hard work has gone largely unrecognized. The lack of minority representation in media for all minority groups, not just African Americans, is sad and disappointing, but we need not bait one another. There is actually a lot of good that could come if Al Sharpton does get his own show.
Honestly, I cannot personally say that I’m overly excited about it, but I do think that it would be a challenge to the trend of “black face only” TV. No one can deny that, for the most part, networks have been working to increase the diversity of their news teams. (CNN itself has been praised for its efforts in the past.) However, how often do these black faces (insert Latino faces, Asian faces, etc.) actually represent a diverse viewpoint? In many ways, I think the disconnect between “advocacy” and “journalism” is actually holding many journalists of color back.
How often do we see Don Lemon (not to hate on Don Lemon) correct a speaker about a misconception about people of color or demonstrate an expression of disapproval? I discussed this issue before in my post about Oprah (see “The Incredibly Shrinking O”), but what is the point of us coming to the table if we’re not going to bring our own dish? Instead, we simply eat what we see in front of us and pretend that if we can stomach it long enough, maybe one day we can invite them to dinner. We play along too much and for too long, some of us eating, while the majority are starving. Enough.
For whatever reasons or motivations, Al Sharpton has a track record of saying what needs to be said, no matter what. MSNBC’s willingness to bring someone of his reputation and perspective on gives me hope for the representation of varying black viewpoints in this post-Oprah age. If you think he’s too loud, maybe you should make some more noise. In the words of Ace Hood “closed mouths don’t get fed on this boulevard.”
The trend of celebrity-based news and news figures is geared towards getting people to watch. The NABJ admitted it themselves; Eliot Spitzer is not a journalist. So, if that’s the trend, at least MSNBC may be hiring a black non-journalist instead of another white one. If Sharpton attracts viewers, who says he won’t feature some of those qualified black journalists? Oprah put Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Nate Berkus (none of whom are “journalists” or black, for that matter) on. Don’t hate people, participate. You never know where it could get you.
So, say what you will about Rev Al. All I know is, until Cousin Jeff (does he count as a “journalist”?) gets his own show , I’ll be watching.