Mediaite's Concha: Sharpton's MSNBC Conflict a Ratings Bust, Too

Friday, 29 Aug 2014 09:38 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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Letting the Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and Obama White House confidante, host his own MSNBC news show violates basic conflict-of-interest rules for journalism, and gives the lightly watched liberal cable outlet no discernible ratings boost in return, a media columnist told Newsmax TV on Friday.

Joe Concha, who covers television and culture for Mediaite, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that MSNBC's parent, NBC News, is apt to get more headaches than journalistic or commercial benefits from accepting Sharpton's ethically dubious dual roles as political crusader and paid cable news host.

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"All this just comes back and eventually does hurt a network like MSNBC, and NBC News, for that matter, because he [also] goes on 'Meet the Press,' " said Concha.

Concha described an awkward situation in which Sharpton is making news and covering it.

Sharpton devoted his show to the racial storm this month in Ferguson, Missouri, and interviewed the grieving parents of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot Aug. 9 by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Sharpton also led protests in Ferguson, spoke at Brown's funeral and, as Politico reported, advised the White House and Justice Department on how to respond to the unrest — which some critics accused him of inflaming with his presence.

"So he’s basically serving as a sounding board for the Obama administration, and that’s no longer journalism," said Concha. "It’s not even opinion journalism; it’s propaganda."

Concha said NBC's rationale is that "you know what you're getting" — that Sharpton's views and activism aren't hidden, and that viewers can evaluate him accordingly.

Except there aren't many viewers.

Concha argued that Sharpton "isn’t even giving MSNBC any kind of return on investment" for what he guessed is the host's six-figure salary.

"You would think … with a story like Ferguson he would be able to get a nice ratings bump out of that," said Concha.

"Instead, those ratings have remained flat," he said, "and he gets beat by Bret Baier [on Fox News] by a 4-to-1 margin and Wolf Blitzer on CNN by a 2-to-2 margin. So you add all that up, he’s not making any money for [MSNBC] in terms of ratings, not selling any more advertising … and then there’s the conflict of interest I mentioned with the White House and obviously with holding rallies," he said.

Concha said that a conflict-ridden Sharpton show doesn't help the network build trust for its news brand, "and the ratings show that, and certainly MSNBC is the least trusted name in news right now because of that."

MSNBC wasn't the only cable news channel to make questionable calls on Ferguson coverage, said Concha.

He cited CNN reporter Don Lemon rushing to air with an unverified recording of what was claimed to be audio of Brown's shooting, picked up by a local resident who was logged on to a video chat service.

Concha said that other networks turned down the audio, fearing it might be fake, and that CNN should have waited to test the recording before airing it — "even if it is proven to be authentic," he said.

But with 24-7 cable news channels feeling pressure from social media, where ever more breaking news is found, the impulse to get ahead of a story even at the risk of being wrong is hard to resist, he said.

"No one wants to be second in these races," said Concha.

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