How I became a darling of Rush Limbaugh and right wing media by criticizing Al Sharpton
For a black pundit, there may be no quicker route to fame and acclaim in conservative media than to criticize other, liberal black people.
I found that out firsthand this week, after going on CNN's Reliable Sources media issues show to outline the very real concerns journalists of color have in seeing the first anchor job within spitting distance of a cable newschannel's prime time schedule go to a non-journalist civil rights activist, Al Sharpton.
My point, was that Sharpton's hire highlights a problem several cable channels have had with hiring people who are not journalists, only to see their past lives create problems in the present. The best example nowadays may be CNN's own hire of disgraced ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was always hamstrung when it came to covering the peccadilloes of other politicians because he had lost a pretty big job due to soliciting prostitutes.
But for the conservative media-sphere, all that mattered was a black pundit was willing to criticize one of their biggest bogeymen. My comments were quickly linked everywhere from Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism website to Glenn Beck's news website, The Blaze (find it ironic that a website started by a non-journalist who hosted a 5 p.m. show on Fox News Channel for nearly three years would link this piece? I did.)
But the biggest mention came yesterday on my old friend Rush Limbaugh's show. This is the guy I criticized for unfairly bringing up race during comments about quarterback Donovan McNabb during his stint as a commentator on Monday Night Football; the fellow I called out for being a slicker race-baiter than deposed MSNBC morning guy Don Imus; the man I excoriated for his awful, race-tinged commentary about those unlucky enough to be trapped in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Suddenly, to this guy, I am among the "accredited, certified journalists" who have an important point to make about Al Sharpton.
Here's the excerpt from Limbaugh's tirade: "There's lots of grumbling in the journalism community that qualified black journalists were passed over in place of the Reverend Sharpton getting, what is it? It's a three-month tryout for this gig, or two-month, however long it's been. Last Sunday on CNN's Reliable Sources the host Howard Kurtz interviewed St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans, and Kurtz says, "Al Sharpton on the verge of getting the MSNBC job. He'd be the first African-American with a nightly show on cable news in years, and yet he's not a journalist. He's a liberal activist. He's former candidate. What do you say to that?"
DEGGANS: Exactly. And I think that's something -- that's what worries, uh, some black journalists, you know. We have been pushing hard to try and have diversity, particularly in cable news primetime. We don't have a person of color who's really hosting a show on any of the major, uh, cable news channels in primetime, and to have that one slot go to someone who's more of an activist and not a journalist."
Limbaugh then goes on to mock the idea of journalists advocating for diversity in staffing and news coverage.
To be fair, I knew this would happen. Nuance matters little in the partisan media battleground where Limbaugh and Breitbart ply their trade, so any words against Sharpton offered by a black journalist will echo far and wide.
But I think my point is relatively simple. The best way to ensure diversity in news coverage -- an important component of accuracy in news coverage -- is to have a diversity in staffing, including on the anchor desk. And hiring a guy known primarily as an activist doesn't fully meet that goal.
We need smart journalists of color in top anchor jobs to help influence coverage and ensure fairness. To me, this isn't about Sharpton's past as much as it is about MSNBC's future, and the best way it can ensure quality coverage of an increasingly diverse world.
Wonder if anyone will stop making cheap political points long enough to talk about that idea?