Sharpton and the Media’s Cat-and-Mouse Game

PostSharptonSome of today’s New York newspaper front pages were pretty remarkable. Both the New York Post (4/9/14) and the Daily News (4/9/14) sensationalized, for the second day in a row, revelations that Al Sharpton was an informant for the FBI.

Revelations first alluded to in 1988 by Newsday, to be specific.

Coverage from the News and the Post, which has never made secret its detestation of Sharpton, exploded after the Smoking Gun website (4/7/14) published documents pointing to Sharpton’s cooperation with the feds. But while admitting his role as an informant, Sharpton defended himself from assertions that he was a snitch (“I was not and am not a rat because I wasn’t with the rats…. I’m a cat”) by pointing out he was helping law enforcement to take down criminals.

The Post, a staunch proponent of law and order most other times, left out the long-rumored accusations in activist circles that Sharpton tried to lead authorities to Assata Shakur (AKA Joan Chesimard)–the fugitive black liberation icon. Newsday reported on that in 1988, too.

So while this week’s revelations aren’t all that new, for some, they set up an interesting cat-and-mouse game between corporate media, including the right-wing Post, and Sharpton. The Reverend and his National Action Network might be able to point to a media attack as politically motivated–Sharpton’s past activism and current close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio would correctly put him in the crosshairs of conservative media. All of which may lead some on the left to circle the wagons around him.

But for long-time activists and those in the African-American community, Sharpton’s cooperation with the arm of the government that engineered the notorious COINTELPRO operation raises a different set of questions than what local papers are asking.

Sharpton, now an MSNBC host, is a favored partisan figure these days (Extra!, 7/13), much more comfortable rubbing shoulders with political fat cats than catching any mob rats. That alone might give activists pause before rushing to his defense.