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My CNN appearance today: Explaining ambivalence about Al Sharpton on MSNBC



al-sharpton-msnbc.jpgLOS ANGELES -- For someone who has written much about the need to diversify primetime in cable TV news, MSNBC's announcement that it is considering longtime civil rights activist Al Sharpton for a 6 p.m. gig on the channel is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment.

At least, that's the idea I tried to convey this morning, appearing on Howard Kurtz's CNN media analysis show Reliable Sources for the first time in a while, talking about my conversations with MSNBC president Phil Griffin about Sharpton and CBS News president Jeff Fager about departed star Katie Couric. We met at CNN's bureau in Los Angeles, where Kurtz is vacationing and I'm quizzing TV executives as part of the Television Critics Association's summer press tour.

phil-griffin-msnbc.jpgBottom line with Sharpton, great as it is to see a person of color within spitting distance of cable news primetime, hiring a personality with a history of activism presents lots of problems you might not have in considering a journalist or news personality for a similar job. As other journalists have pointed out, Sharpton's group the National Action Network has received thousands of dollars from Comcast/NBC at a time when he was one of the first African American leaders to support the cable giant's taking a controlling interest in NBC Universal.

i don't think there a quid pro quo going on here. Not because Griffin (at left) denied it to me -- which he did -- but because making programming decisions based on those criteria would be the kind of boneheaded move I haven't seen Comcast make, at a time when everyone is watching to see if they will go there.

Instead, I think Sharpton's potential hiring -- now seemingly in limbo while MSNBC waits to see if the furor will die down -- is emblematic of the conflicts the cable channel will face in putting someone who has an active role as a deal maker and crusader into leading a broadcast required to follow the standards of NBC News. This is why nerdy media moralists like me say appearances count; even if it seems possible Sharpton cut a deal with Comcast to get his own show, that creates issues.

Think Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough caused problems with their political contributions? Wait until NBC News standards and practices tries to tell Sharpton how he can conduct his business outside of appearing on the newschannel.

I don't have any great hate for Sharpton. But this is just an example of a larger problem cable news channels can get into when hiring personalities known more for galvanizing controversy and attention than handling news and information.

And if any thinks he canceled an appearance at the National Association of Black Journalists covention last week over people like me saying things like this, rather than avoiding increasingly public questions about lobbying for Comcast, I've got a bridge in West Central Florida to sell you.

Check out the appearance below and see if I got any of that across:

[Last modified: Sunday, August 7, 2011 4:18pm]


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