Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Al Sharpton: Journalist, Prosecutor, Judge

Whatever happened to innocent until proved guilty? Are we deciding murder cases now by taking polls?

As Trayvon Martin’s parents call for calm, debate heats up in the media itself, not about the Florida teenager’s shooting death, but about Al Sharpton’s multiple roles in the case as cable news host, racial agitator, judge and jury.

A quarter of a century ago, the Reverend Al began his public career as champion of Tawana Brawley, a black teenage girl in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. who, after staying out overnight, invented a story of gang rape by white law officers, which ended with a Grand Jury finding Sharpton guilty of defamation and ordered to pay damages to the accused.

Since then, Sharpton has morphed into super-celebrity as a presidential candidate in Democratic debates as well as the beneficiary of free face time in every incident with racial overtones since then, including the firing of Don Imus, culminating in his hiring as an MSNBC news host last year.

In the Trayvon Martin case, Sharpton’s antics have been abetted by the failure of local Florida authorities for weeks to provide details about the accused, allowing one-sided news to escalate into a national uproar, involving even the President.

Now, in slow leaks, facts begin to emerge. The Sanford police release a video of George Zimmerman, the shooter, being taken in to headquarters that night with no visible signs of the injuries he allegedly sustained when “attacked” by the teenager.

Eventually, the full truth of the case will emerge from the furor of hoodies in Congress, Black Panther death threats and Fox News defamation of the victim, but a larger question remains for the media and society as a whole.

Do we remain a nation of laws or go back to the days of the Roman Coliseum when crowds decided the fate of fellow human beings by yelling and turning their thumbs up or down?

If so, one vote here for having Al Sharpton as an MSNBC anchor join the over-opinionated Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs et al in media oblivion.

Update: On the weekend, hanging judge Sharpton is in Sanford as racial agitator Sharpton, to the dismay of local civil rights leaders. When he gets back to the Big Apple, cable host Sharpton will no doubt explain it all.

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