MSNBC president Phil Griffin thought he had found a perfect host to replace Cenk Uygur in the network’s 6 p.m. time slot in Al Sharpton, but has instead run into a buzzsaw of criticism from members of the National Association of Black Journalists who want MSNBC to choose a black journalist.
Howard Kurtz discussed the controversy with Eric Deggans, a media critic at the St. Petersburg Times, on Sunday.
Kurtz: Al Sharpton, on the verge of getting an MSNBC job. He would be the first African American with a nightly show on cable news in years and yet he’s not a journalist, he’s obviously a liberal activist and former candidate.
Deggans: Exactly and I think that’s something that worries some black journalists. We have been pushing hard to try and have diversity, particularly in cable news prime time. We don’t have a person of color who’s really hosting a show on any of the major cable news channels in prime time and to have that one slot go to someone who’s more of an activist and not a journalist…
Kurtz: Not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination.
Kurtz then switched to discussing Sharpton’s cancellation of a scheduled appearance at the NABJ conference in Philadelphia last week.
Kurtz: Sharpton was supposed to appear this week at the National Association of Black Journalists of which you are a member and he cancelled because a couple of members of the organization criticized the fact that he is about to get this MSNBC gig. What does that tell you about his attitude towards journalistic criticism?
Deggans: Well you know I wonder about that. I’m on an internet list-serve and we were discussing it. And I guess he says he was reacting to that. But what we also saw was that there were news stories that talked about the connection between the group that he runs and the way it got money from Comcast and the way it advocated for approval of Comcast taking over, running NBC Universal. So did he cancel because the people were having a discussion on the list-serve or did he cancel because he didn’t want to deal with that larger public controversy in a public setting?
Deggans must have missed NABJ secretary Roland Martin’s remarks at the conference where he told attendees that “Rev Sharpton took offense to the story that was written and that that was the position of NABJ.” Even after Martin and NABJ president Kathy Y. Times explained that that wasn’t the case, Sharpton “was still upset by that and felt by coming here and being a part, that he would be the story.”
By not appearing, though, Sharpton showed just how thin-skinned he really is. He can dish it out when criticizing conservatives and the Tea Party, but he acts like an angry toddler when being criticized by fellow liberals.
The odds are that Sharpton will still get a program on MSNBC, but the black journalists’ objections have certainly given the network pause and they will probably wait for the controversy to die down before finalizing any contract with him.