You would think there is nothing a critic could write about MSNBC’s decision to give a disreputable figure such as Al Sharpton a prime-time show that would create sympathy for the network. But when a dull, uniformly liberal newspaper criticizes a cable outlet for broadcasting material that is dull and uniformly liberal, one’s first reaction is to feel as if such hypocrisy reeks of injustice.
Yet as unfair as it may be for the New York Times to accuse MSNBC of being complacently and boringly liberal, the charge still sticks. Alessandra Stanley’s Arts Beat critique of the debut of the Sharpton show was very much on target, especially in her takedown of the way it copied the pattern of everything else seen on the network:
And that may be the problem with Mr. Sharpton’s cable news pulpit: what he means to say is in lockstep with every other MSNBC evening program, making the stretch between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. a nonstop lecture on liberal values and what is wrong with the Republican Party.
One could say the same about daily content of the Times while also noting in MSNBC’s defense shows such as that of Sharpton do not pretend to be objective in the same manner as the Gray Lady. Stanley’s problem with Sharpton is not with his politics but with his labored pretense of respectability. She seems to think the old outrageous Sharpton — the man who helped perpetrate the Tawana Brawley rape hoax and incited anti-Semitic violence during the Crown Heights pogrom 20 years ago — would be a lot more fun to watch.
Maybe so, but the interesting thing about Sharpton’s career is how hard he has worked to get to the point where it is considered in bad taste to bring up his origins as a lying racial agitator. That was a long struggle for a man who was once rightly considered too toxic for a network to ever entrust him with this kind of visibility.
Earlier this month, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by Sharpton in which he admitted his behavior during the Crown Heights riots was not exemplary. The significance of his half-hearted apology–in which he acknowledged his statements at that time did not place any value on the life of Jewish victims of the pogrom he helped incite–is not what he wrote but the idea he is now a reformed statesman rather than the flim-flam artist he has always been.
Indeed, only a few days before the review of his show, Sharpton was the subject of another Times article that attempted to deconstruct the reasons for his silence on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case. The obvious answer to that question is now that he has made it to the big time, Sharpton has no incentive to play the race-baiting rabble-rouser anymore.
Stanley is right the old Sharpton was more entertaining than the slick fellow who appears on MSNBC agreeing with other liberals about the evil GOP. But one suspects her comments about the complacent liberalism of MSNBC will have no more impact on the network than a similar critique of the Times would have on its publishers. The only real question is, which of the two is more boring?