For a black pundit, there may be no quicker route to fame and acclaim in conservative media than to criticize liberal black people. I found that out firsthand last week, after appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources show to outline concerns I had about the news that MSNBC might give a full-time anchor job at 6 p.m. to a nonjournalist: civil rights activist Al Sharpton.
My main 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 former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who always was hamstrung when it came to covering the peccadilloes of other politicians because he had lost a pretty big job due to his own soliciting of prostitutes.
In the conservative media-sphere, all that mattered was that a black pundit was willing to criticize one of its biggest bogeymen. My comments were quickly linked on Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism website and Glenn Beck's news website, the Blaze. (I must say, it was ironic to see the link on a website started by a nonjournalist who hosted a 5 p.m. show on Fox News Channel for years.)
The biggest mention came Wednesday on 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 ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown; later, I excoriated his awful, race-tinged commentary about those trapped in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Suddenly, to Limbaugh, I am among the "accredited, certified journalists" who have an important point to make about Al Sharpton. He said: "There's lots of grumbling in the journalism community that qualified black journalists were passed over in place of the Rev. Sharpton getting, what is it? It's a three-month tryout for this gig."
Then he aired an excerpt of my quote from CNN noting some journalists of color "have been pushing hard to try and have diversity, particularly in cable news prime time," only to see the first opportunity go to an activist with limited TV experience. Limbaugh mocked 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.
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?