Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Irreverent Times for Sharpton

With the Trayvon Martin trial coming up, these should be heady days for Al Sharpton in his dual roles as anchor and agitator, but a confluence of events is raining on the Reverend’s parade.

His cable home MSNBC has fallen off a ratings cliff, and the New York Times has chosen to revisit, complete with video, the 1987 Tawana Brawley case which brought Sharpton notoriety he converted into fame, respectability and a 2004 Presidential run.

The new Times report calls the Brawley case “a hoax” about a 15-year-old African-American girl who, afraid of punishment for staying out late, smeared herself with feces and claimed she had been raped by white men. For months Sharpton, a street agitator, kept embellishing her story, naming law enforcement officers as the rapists and leading mob protests.

Now a meticulous report concludes: “After seven months, 6,000 pages of testimony and 180 witnesses, a grand jury found Ms. Brawley’s story to be a lie. Neither the police officer nor the district attorney accused by Ms. Brawley and Mr. Sharpton had been involved in any way.”

Sharpton was ordered to pay $80,000 for defamation, provided by what he described as “love offerings” from his admirers. For years afterward, the Reverend subsisted on odd donations, including

*$25,000 from folks seeking Harlem fast-fried franchises as the Reverend stood up for the “underchicken” and denounced Kentucky Fried Chicken’s fowl cruelty.

*A $100,000 misunderstanding that resulted in having to return Federal funding for his 2004 presidential campaign.

*$240,000 a year to do commercials for Loan Max, which he renounced after an uproar over the firm’s 360 percent-a-year interest charges that often resulted in taking away cars from the poor.

*The $1.9 million the National Action Network reported in 2002 mostly from unidentified contributors.

But all that was pin money until Sharpton used his radio show to drive Don Imus off NBC in 2007 and two years ago signed with the network’s cable outlet to host the 6 o’clock news.

When the Tawana Brawley scandal was playing out, I lived nearby in upstate New York when the Reverend was roiling the rural area only a few miles from FDR’s residence at Hyde Park and Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage in Val-Kill.

History makes strange bedfellows.

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