By Chris Daly
Now comes Al Sharpton. His recent appointment as the anchor for an MSNBC program that airs at 6 p.m. raises questions about whether Sharpton is a journalist or an activist. Today’s NYTimes diplomatically called him “a hybrid like no other.”
Evidence that he is a journalist:
–MSNBC hired him. End of story.
Evidence that he is not a journalist:
–He has never worked full-time as a journalist.
–He gets to the MSNBC studio at about 4:15 p.m. for his 6 p.m. show. Hmmm. . . that would not seem to leave a whole lot of time for doing any journalism.
In my view, the question of whether Sharpton is a journalist or an activist is the wrong question. He is, obviously, both an activist and a journalist. So what?
There is a long tradition of activist-journalists in this country — beginning at least in the late 18th century with Thomas Paine, continuing through the 19th century with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass as well as women’s rights advocates like Susan B. Anthony, and continuing in the 20th century with muckrakers and the many “movement” journalists affiliated with activism on behalf of stopping the Vietnam War, protecting the environment, or asserting gay rights.
The question about Sharpton is: is he any good? From what I have seen of Sharpton in the past, one thing is hard to miss: he is naturally telegenic. His voice is instantly recognizable, and he seems to be in his element when people disagree. In television terms, those are important credentials.
Ultimately, the people will decide this one, by watching or not.