The Al Sharpton Blowback: Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of

Rev. Sharpton slimmed down, but he's still a big target for his enemies.

The Germans, when they weren’t conquering Europe coined a word to describe the pleasure or satisfaction others receive from the misfortunes of others.  Schadenfreude is the word and over the last two weeks I’ve given a lot of folks I’ve never met a lot of pleasure.

Jeff, I’m hearing your name everywhere. Even this morning on my drive in to work, I hear about your thoughts on the whole MSNBC thing. How is this newfound (or renewed) stardom treating you?

That was a message waiting for me when I signed on to Facebook the other day.  I had no idea what my friend was talking about.

It turns out she was talking about me being talked about on The Tom Joyner Show.   The fly jock was jockin’ my name regarding remarks I made about the Reverend Al Sharpton replacing Cenk Uygur on MSNBC.

Jeff Johnson, a contributor to Joyner’s morning radio show and a writer for Black America had some thoughts he wanted to share about what I had said on my blog and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) discussion board  that had been picked up by media reporter Richard Prince on his Journal-isms column and gone nationwide.

Prince wrote in his July 21 column:  When rumors surfaced this week that Sharpton was under consideration for the MSNBC job, one NABJ member told colleagues without challenge, “This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.”

Media Writer Richard Prince

That observation became the centerpiece every critic and supporter of the Sharpton hire springboarded off of.

Johnson rolled up his pants legs and waded in on Blackamericaweb in an essay, “Don’t Hate on Sharpton-Congratulate Him”:

For years, there have been no black hosts in primetime cable news and fewer than a handful anywhere in cable news. Last week, that reality was served a blow when MSNBC decided to announce that Rev. Al Sharpton would become the network’s newest host, filling the 6 p.m. hour of the cable network’s programming. Now, MSNBC had been using Rev. Sharpton to fill in for Cenk Uygur and then seemingly opened space for him to continue to audition (if you will) for the spot. I heard my fair share of comments regarding his performance, from praise to reasonable critique, to straight-up hate. And when it was finally announced that he would get the spot, the naysayers came out of the woodwork.

Even Keith Olbermann, a former MSNBC host, weighed in, helping to spread one of the most reported quotes about Sharpton’s hiring from Ohio journalist Jeff Winbush. He stated, “This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.” It is important to state that Winbush went further to say that he did not have an issue with Sharpton, but wanted legitimate black journalists to get an honest shot at this type of opportunity.

I hope that we as a community pause, put this into perspective and make the most of this moment in time.

As a growing journalist myself, I want to see seasoned, tested and consistent black journalists get greater visibility as well. However, let us not allow others to use this moment to create division between us.

I guess I’m supposed to one of those “others” Johnson says is creating division.   I always wanted to be an “other.”

This was apparently the quote heard round the world.

It showed up on Roland Martin’s website, The Poynter Institute which covers media-related issues,, Beliefnet, Media Bistro, the conservative Accuracy In Media site and places I never knew existed.    When I learned Media Takeout, the Black-oriented celebrity and scandal site, had picked up on it with the headline, “Jealousy??? Black Journalists Criticize MSNBC…For Hiring Al Sharpton!!!”, I knew things had snowballed into something way beyond my control.

A quick Google search of “Al Sharpton, Jeff Winbush” found this article from EEW Magazine Buzz: 

Is it the age old “crabs-in-the-barrel” syndrome among African Americans? Or does National Association of Black Journalists member, Jeff Winbush, have good reason to get all huffy about MSNBC’s rumored plans to hire Reverend Al Sharpton for a primetime nightly hosting gig?

Winbush’s written commentary about the decision to potentially hire Al Sharpton has made its rounds online.  Said Winbush, “This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent… “

On the one hand, black folks complain about not having a visible role on primetime cable news. On the other hand, once someone is chosen, complainers are not satisfied because they would like to see someone else get a shot.

Can anybody really win?

Although there is merit to Winbush’s argument that qualified journalists of color consistently get passed over for these type positions, should we allow that issue to cloud the fact that one of our own may be getting a nationwide platform to advance our causes and interests?

Johnson agreed with some of my remarks, but thought it was too harsh on Sharpton

Then there was this from J.C. Brooks at EURWeb:

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the NAACP have been asking for more faces of color at the news desks across the country, but for some reason when Al Sharpton was asked to consider a position at MSNBC’s news desk in the 6pm slot, he was met with strong words and, to make it simple, a little “hateration.”

One member of the NABJ took to his blog saying, “‘This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.”‘  Well, when Jeff Winbush made that comment, it took off across the Internet, columns, and even Keith Olbermann’s new “Countdown” show.  Now he feels he should clarify his statements.

According to Journal-isms, Sharpton was asked how he felt about the controversy that stirred up with Winbush’s comments and he told the, “We can’t get into a crabs-in-the-barrel mentality,” Sharpton said. “We cannot let them play us off one another. There is a history here. Kweisi Mfume had a talk show. Jesse Jackson Jr. had a talk show. If someone can advocate nationwide, we need to do that given the pain of our people. We need to do that on television, in newspapers and magazines. And all of us need to be united.”

The Root’s Leslie Holloway further clarified that the position being offered to Sharpton is not one of news, but “opinions and advocacy.”  Winbush contends that he didn’t want to stir anything up with Sharpton and that he has “no ill will” toward the community crusader, he just wants journalists to get a fair shake too.

They both make sense, but most journalists and everyone else were given the wrong impression.  The media reported Sharpton’s position as one of a 6pm news format and in that capacity, Winbush and fellow journalists had reason for concern.

Concern?  Yeah, you might say I was concerned.  Mostly because my name was floating around as ripping Sharpton and had mutated from a pointed observation to a truncheon to bludgeon a non-journalist taking a gig away from somebody more deserving.

What surprises me most is how nobody ever asked me why I made the remarks about Sharpton in the first place.  If anyone had bothered to ask I would have explained I’m not anti-Sharpton, I’m pro-Black journalists.   All I did was point out Reverend Al is a man of the cloth, not the Associated Press style book.

Nobody wanted to hear that.  I thought I had exposed an inconvenient truth.  The truth is all these writers on these websites wanted was a juicy pull quote.  Once they got it, it was time to whip up a controversy that all these Black journalists were upset over Sharpton beating them out of a gig when the only person who said jack was me.

Richard Prince’s Journal-isms column ran a follow-up where he identified me as the source of the controversial quote.  I was glad Prince gave me a chance to clarify my remarks, but the follow-up never gets the kind of play as the original statement.

Freelance journalist Jeff Winbush wants it known that he is not hatin’ on the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Winbush is a blogger in Columbus, Ohio, a former editor of the black newspaper the Columbus Post and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. More to the point, he was the source of a quote in Thursday’s “Journal-isms” about MSNBC’s reported readiness to hire Sharpton for its 6 p.m. slot.

“When rumors surfaced this week that Sharpton was under consideration for the MSNBC job, one NABJ member told colleagues without challenge, ‘This would still be just another non-journalist media “celebrity” receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent,’ ” the column read.

Winbush’s quote reverberated around the Internet and was even shown, with the column, on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” show on Current TV. Olbermann was fired by MSNBC, where his show was also called “Countdown,” in January. On Thursday, Olbermann gave a platform to Cenk Uygur, the former MSNBC host whose slot has been filed temporarily by Sharpton.

“MSNBC Set To Hire Sharpton; Black Journalists Slam Impending Hire,” one headline read.

” ‘Slam?’ I did no such thing. I said nothing of the sort,” Winbush told Journal-isms by email. “I was not attacking him personally. I bear him no ill will. I simply want to see Black journalists get a fair shot as well.”

There is no control when the Internet gets hold of something you say or do.  If it’s caught by a camera it will soon be slapped on You Tube.  If it’s a muttered racist remark everybody will hear it.   There is no hiding place in cyberspace.

I’ve written several miles worth of columns and essays taking on and taking down politicians, celebrities and other pundits.  Keith Olbermann and Sharpton are among the many subjects I’ve praised, slammed or damned, so I can’t really bitch about having my words thrown back in my face.  My words are like my kids and they belong to me.  I can’t distance myself from them and I can’t deny I said what I said.

Sharpton getting a show has upset both the Right and the Left.

After all the times I’ve bad-talked Michael Steele, I’m surprised he hasn’t called to say, “How it’s feel to get played, brother?”

It’s been an interesting experience.  Next time though I would hope over something I said that was actually newsworthy instead of scandalous.

Next week I’ll be in Philadelphia attending the National Association of Black Journalists Convention.  I’ll have more to say later about the convention, but a lot of my “friends” will be there.  Sharpton will be there.  So will Michael Steele, Cornel West, Roland Martin, Jeff Johnson, Melissa Harris-Perry, Joel Dreyfuss, editor of The Root, and Arianna Huffington among a cast of thousands.

For Black journalists next week is our Woodstock.   There’s going to be far more partying, drinking, and over indulgence in four days than most folks will do in four months, but for me it will also be an opportunity to look some of the people who got my remarks wrong and set them right.

And if I get a chance to get close enough to Reverend Sharpton and shake his hand,  I’ll introduce myself and tell him how sorry I am my name was used to scandalize his.  Sharpton is taking heat not from his enemies on the Right, but from the Left as both The Daily Caller and The Huffington Post have blasted MSNBC for ousting Uygur and replacing a White liberal with a Black liberal.

I’m no fan of U2.  Not even a bit, but I have to credit Bono and the boys this much.  They came up with a song that perfectly captures the mixed emotions one experiences when something they say gets all mashed up into something unrecognizable as your original thought.    When the media starts manipulating it is like being stuck in a moment you can’t get out of.

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better now
You’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it