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Comcast Gives Obama & $500,000 Charter Schools Shill Sharpton a Permanent MSNBC Gig

An interesting side-pocket shot: The reputed coziness between Sharpton and the White House. With Princeton rabble-rouser Cornell West, PBS host Tavis Smiley and the Congressional Black Caucus regularly sniping at Obama, the White House needs a water carrier of color. Sharpton is poised to fill the bill.

I am sure it was just a coincidence that Obama stopped by the Martha’s Vineyard digs of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts a couple of days before the Sharpton deal was announced. (Comcast is the parent company of MSNBC). — From The Politics of Sharpton’s New Gig, by Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times, August 29, 2011

When West told Sharpton that he worries this White House … seem[s] more eager to serve the interests of wealthy oligarchs than to serve the black community, then Sharpton really exploded. — April 10, 2011 on MSNBC

What are ‘news’ networks for other than to serve wealthy oligarchs? The Al Sharpton hiring at MSNBC demonstrates on many levels why capitalist-controlled mass media simply doesn’t work if you want a real democracy. Comcast owns NBC, MSNBC, and much of the other mainstream media that sets the U.S. political agenda. August was cut Social Security month, despite the fact that the U.S. desperately needs massive economic stimulus. Last April was anti-public schools month, despite the fact that charter schools, the ballyhooed alternative, only succeed in cutting teacher salaries and destroying unions. But austerity and charters are bedrock positions on the political … left! of the mainstream media.

We know why Sharpton replaced Cent Uygur at MSNBC:

“I said people in Washington had a concern with my tone, which is what [MSNBC President] Phil Griffin told me. I didn’t say that he said that it was the White House. Now, you know, who is ‘the people in Washington’? I think that’s a really great question; [it] probably needs some more investigation.

“You know, a friend of mine just suggested that I watch the ‘60 minutes’ piece from a couple of months ago about Al Sharpton. And I found that to be very curious because [’60 Minutes’ correspondent] Leslie Stahl said there — and here I have the quote for you: ‘Sharpton says he’s decided not to criticize the president about anything.’ So the guy who was criticizing the president is out, even though he had really good ratings, and the guy who has decided not to criticize the president about anything is in. That’s interesting.” — Cent Uygur, July 24, 2011

An example of the democracy crisis caused by corporate-profits mainstream media involves its recent and ongoing anti-public-schools crusade. NBC has led that effort, as highlighted last September by what The Daily Howler (essential on these matters) called a week of “teacher-bashing special broadcasts,” all shilling for ‘Waiting for Superman,’ the anti-public-schools documentary. Looking back in March of this year, Howler wrote, “When it comes to reporting on public schools, NBC News gets a failing grade, a grade it has thoroughly earned.” Howler noted in late September 2010 the public schools standard script and who was pounding it hardest:

In th[e] Standard Scripted Assessment, teachers and their teacher unions are the villains of the piece; they are the reason—the only reason—why “this nation’s schools, particularly the big city ones, are an unforgivable mess.” That script is part of a much larger war, in which the nation’s plutocrats began to target the nation’s unions about forty years ago. But when it comes to those teachers unions, every good journalist knows what to say. NBC’s mewling David Gregory recited the script on yesterday’s Meet the Press, although he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about when it comes to the nation’s schools. As the day proceeded on MSNBC, Brian Williams, Joe and Mika all continued to pound the script home.

Okay, that’s all well-known to us real leftists, but not Al Sharpton’s role in it, specifically in blunting African-American opposition to New York City’s lurch toward private charters. I first noticed Sharpton’s name in that context in ‘Obama’s Neoliberal Stance on Charter Schools‘:

It should also be no surprise that the corporate controlled media is beating the drums for the neoliberal agenda to privatize schools. As Danny Weil outlines in “Corporate School Hype and How It’s Managed,” NPR, CNN, PBS, 20/20 and Oprah Winfrey are all guilty of staging “informercials” promoting school privatization via the formation of charter schools as a solution to the “crisis” in public schools. No pro-public school advocates are invited to challenge the assertions presented, and there is no disclosure of ideological or financial (as in the case of controversial civil rights leader Al Sharpton) ties to right wing think tanks and school privatization proponents. — Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall, Alternet, March 2011

That link led to an excellent series of August 2009 articles — ‘Obama and Duncan’s Education Policy: Like Bush’s, Only Worse‘ — by Danny Weil in Counterpunch. Here are the facts on Sharpton and the $500,000 reasons he suddenly fell in love back in 2009 with charter schools:

On April 1, 2009, while putting the finishing touches on the second edition of this charter school book, my attention was drawn to a news report in the New York Daily News by the journalist, Juan Gonzalez.  The article, entitled “Rev. Al Sharpton’s 500G link to education reform” detailed financial wheeling and dealing, skilled manipulation, personal gain, payoffs through third party intermediaries, front groups, cronyism and rigged public relations campaigns and events designed to influence and manipulate public sentiment on matters of educational policy, especially charter schools.

It should be no surprise that the Reverend Al Sharpton, the self-proclaimed civil rights leader, would be linked to personal financial controversies and political scandals over educational policies in New York City and elsewhere.  … The news report detailed secretive dealings and hidden financial payoffs involving Sharpton, the current New York City school Chancellor, Joel Klein, Harold Levy (former New York Chancellor of Education), Joe Williams a strong charter school advocate with his own ‘front group’, Wall Street financiers and the overnight creation of what has come to be known as ‘The Education Equality Project’ (EEP), an ‘educational reform group’ which both Joel Klein and the Reverend Sharpton founded back in 2008.  …

What the [EEP] website fails to mention, however, and what Gonzalez was able to uncover, is that Sharpton’s own organization, The National Action Network, was immediately paid $500,000 for Sharpton’s consent to endorse, involve and partner himself with Joel Klein to launch the new Education Equality Project.  The cash no doubt was timely, and quite handy, for at the time of the payment Sharpton’s National Action Network had already agreed to pay the US government $1,000,000 dollars in back taxes and penalties as a result of a criminal investigation – a combination of the organizations failure to follow tax law as well as Sharpton’s own complicity in personal tax evasion. 

Public school teacher unions are one of the last bastions of unionism in the U.S. Ask Wisconsin the degree to which teacher and other public employee unions are a target of teaparty Republicans and neoliberal Democrats. MSNBC is the only ostensibly ‘left’ mainstream cable channel. It just gave Al Sharpton, an explicitly bought-and-paid-for charter school shill, one of its main talk show slots. Just another example of why a major plank of a ‘post-revolutionary’ real democracy must include democratization of the mainstream news media.

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