In the 1980's I was a street reporter for a local TV station in Manhattan. The Reverend Al Sharpton was a man of some notoriety. His National Youth Movement was the beginning of his New York presence. His group went to big business selected someone of color in the corporation and expected the company to pay him for a place at his table. He made his way onto the scene of every headline-grabbing, race-related story the city had to offer. I happened to be one of the hungry local New York TV reporters who occasionally got assigned to follow him.
From Bernhard Goetz, the subway vigilante, to the Howard Beach racial assault, the Reverend Al was always there front and center. He had the loudest voice of protest and the biggest army of outraged supporters. He never met a TV camera he didn't like. Then came Tawana Brawley. She was the fifteen-year-old African American girl from Wappinger, New York found smeared with feces in a plastic bag. She claimed she had been assaulted and raped by six white men who were members of law enforcement.
It was a story and a media circus that Sharpton and Brawley's two attorneys led New York reporters on for eight tortuous months. An eyewitness account proved the story was a hoax conjured up by a frightened girl afraid of a step father's beating. Sharpton and Brawley's lawyers were sued for defamation. Sharpton's street cred was shattered. Worse, more stories came to haunt him like the coke sting in which he claimed he was set up by the feds. Then the self-admitted revelation that he wore a wire for the FBI to trap other civil rights leaders. His income tax problems and the failed bid for the presidency with questionable matching funds put the nail in Sharpton's media coffin. Then as only the mighty master of media manipulation could do, he came back and this time landed the highest paying job of his lifetime.
In 2006 Radio One offered Al a talk show with a reported seven hundred thousand dollar yearly salary. Like him or hate him, a radio star was born and the Reverend's life once again took a turn in another direction.
He was there for the usual underdog vs. the establishment cases like Sean Bell and at the end of the 90's Amadou Diallo. If you were black and in trouble over a civil rights issue or injustice it seemed Al Sharpton was still the man you wanted behind you. He was back and in the black community bigger than ever. Except his weight. He shed the pounds and some of his hard core image. He was now a man with a voice a platform and mega following. With his National Action Network last spring he honored the president of MSNBC and lobbied for Comcast in the NBC takeover.
Enter Al the TV anchor. When Ed Shultz took off, it was the Rev Al who filled in. Anyone who watches the network regularly will know he didn't suck. In fact there is something about his edginess and personality that made you want to listen. He is and was compelling.
In the last few weeks Al has been sitting in the coveted six pm MSNBC anchor position. The usual chatter is ongoing, "will he or won't he" get that job as a permanent position?
As a newscaster for over thirty years I can tell you, he is a man with a plan and so watchable in that MSNBC time slot that at the end of the day you can't wait to see him. He is the counter punch to the Obama haters. He does his homework and he spars with the best of them. You look at him and know he is a person who's voice needs and should be heard at this time in history. He can even get a respectful smile out of someone who is his direct opposite like ultra conservative Pat Buchanan. He has become destination TV with a unique perspective. He is funny, never boring and though not perfect the ratings have held steady. From his slimmed down body to his distinctive expressive eyebrows he knows how to look at you straight through the camera. This guy has game. I would say Al you have found your niche. You have come a long way since the heated, packed, hostile press conferences you held in the days of Tawana Brawley.
Go Reverend we are watching and rooting for you because life is forgiving and your evolution is another 'Great Story.' Some would even call it inspirational!
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