Bad news, everyone. According to reports and rumors, MSNBC’s Red Wedding is only growing bloodier. Al Sharpton’s MSNBC program Politics Nation, on the air since 2011, is headed for the chopping block. For now, that’s just a rumor, but the confirmed details of a lawsuit targeting both Sharpton and his employer are far more troubling for both than merely the floundering ratings of the cable host slash political activist.
A lawsuit targeting Comcast and Sharpton last week, filed by the National Association of African-American Owned Media, alleges that both parties engaged in systematic discrimination against black-owned media outlets.
This group filed a similar suit against AT&T and DirecTV in late last year. “This time, the plaintiff is not only targeting both Comcast and TWC on the verge of what would be the largest pay television distributor in the United States, but also various African-American advocacy groups and MSNBC host Al Sharpton for allegedly facilitating discrimination,” The Hollywood Reporter revealed.
At the time of Comcast’s 2010 acquisition of NBCUniversal, Comcast entered into memoranda of understanding with the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, but the lawsuit says the voluntary diversity agreements are “a sham, undertaken to whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices.”
The plaintiff objects that the only fully owned black-channel picked up by Comcast is the Africa Channel, and that entity is owned by former Comcast/NBCU exec Paula Madison, who “was directly involved in putting together the sham MOUs and obtaining government approval for the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal, thus creating a serious conflict of interest.”
Other black channels are said to be “window dressing,” with black celebrities as “fronts” when they are “white-owned businesses” that are run by friends or family of Comcast executives.
The suit further alleges that Comcast made a series of donations totaling $3.8 million to Sharpton’s National Action Network to ensure that he would endorse Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal and deflect attention from its discriminatory practices. That seems like a more supportable charge than the claim that Comcast has a “Jim Crow” system in which black-owned media outlets are discriminated against and African-American talent is selectively elevated so as to shield the company from racial criticism. This allegation might be true, but it seems difficult to establish as fact.
This isn’t the beginning of the backlash against Sharpton by a younger set of African-American activists, but it is a significant development in that ongoing generational and cultural clash. A report in Capital New York published last month detailed a speech in which Sharpton lashed out at younger protesters who saw little value in deferring to New York City’s elected officials amid ongoing protests against police brutality that exploded late last year.
“You can’t be that stupid!” Sharpton reportedly barked at a crowd of protesters in Harlem on January 31. “ You more worried about who going to lead [National Action Network] than who going to be the governor with a multi-billion dollar budget that you got to pay state tax in. You can’t be that stupid.”
In a statement to Capital following Sharpton’s speech, [protest participant Josmar] Trujillo wrote, “In New York, specifically in the majority of the work happening in the last year, Sharpton’s brand is largely seen as destructive at worst– irrelevant at best.”
Trujillo added, “This city voted in a self described ‘progressive’ mayor and city council, only to have Rudy Giuliani’s police commissioner, Bratton, return to power. And who opened their doors to welcome him back? Al Sharpton and NAN.”
Trujillo also said, “As we move ahead here in New York, inspired by Ferguson youth, we’re speaking truth to power. Sharpton, and others like him, are in fact much too cozy with power to fill that role. For the former informant to paternalistically admonish younger, more dynamic leaders by comparing them to ‘hoes’ is just another self-serving attempt to squash dissent as he wrestles for control of a movement that’s leaving him behind.”
It seems that a younger generation of African-American activists who seek to reform the establishment are tired of taking orders from someone who is quite plainly part of the establishment. Described as Obama’s “go-to” man on the subject of race, Sharpton is no longer an outsider bravely combatting the injustices of the system from without. An activist leader who evades prosecution for tax evasion despite flagrant violations and who celebrates his birthday surrounded by celebrities and powerbrokers at the Four Seasons in Manhattan no longer enjoys a claim to hardship and moral authority. For a new batch of activists, Sharpton is no longer viewed as an asset but as a liability.