What were they thinking at NBC's "Saturday Night Live" when they invited racial hate-monger Al Sharpton to be a guest host? "For me, it's a wonderful opportunity," Sharpton said in his opening monologue. "Maybe tonight, people can finally get to know the real Al Sharpton. President Al Sharpton."
"Saturday Night Live" is now a routine stop for politicians who've ended their active campaigns and in some cases, their political careers. Al Gore, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Janet Reno and Steve Forbes have all guest-hosted. But never before has NBC handed over roughly a half hour of its air time and a week of positive publicity to a currently operating presidential candidate. A smattering of stations in early primary states said "no thanks" to this network conflict of interest. Apparently they haven't figured out yet that the FCC's toothless enforcers might take four years to decide on some slap on the wrist.
But what about simple bad taste?
Is this a proper pop-cultural reward for a man who began his political career in 1987 and 1988 parading around the country, and on Geraldo, and on Phil Donahue, forwarding a vicious racial hoax starring a teenage girl who smeared dung and wrote racial epithets on herself, and then falsely accused a pack of white men of repeatedly raping and sodomizing her?
"I see him on 'Saturday Night Live' and I think it is more appropriate for him to be there than taking part in presidential debates," Stephen Pagones told the New York Post. To him, Sharpton is simply a cruel joke. The former prosecutor's hopes for a political career were ruined by Sharpton and the Brawley hoax when he was accused of being one of the rapists. Pagones won a $345,000 jury verdict proving Sharpton's vicious lies, but it's Sharpton who is the toast of the town.
But that's not the end of Sharpton's record of infamy. In 1991 and again in 1995, Sharpton was ranting at the center of racial protests - filled with blacks screaming anti-Semitic taunts - that ended up in a stabbing death, four shooting deaths, and a fire that killed seven. Knowing that, you should choke when you hear how Sharpton concluded his NBC show with the line: "I hope tonight America's laughing together. Maybe then we can learn how to live together."
Lorne Michaels, the long-time boss of "Saturday Night Live," seemingly could care less whose lives were destroyed. Michaels raved to the New York Times, "He's the guy who has the great one-liners, who dominates the debates. He just knows who he is and is comfortable with himself." He told U.S. News & World Report, "I think Americans tend to trust people with a sense of humor."
The problem isn't that Sharpton is comfortable with himself, although he shouldn't be. The problem is that so many others who claim to revere racial harmony, rhetorical civility, and the truth are comfortable with Sharpton. Swap races, and imagine a white activist making a career out of falsely accusing blacks of rapes, leading marches that caused mentally unstable whites to kill in fits of rage. Does that reversed composite sound like great hosting material for "Saturday Night Live"? Who next, Lorne Michaels? Abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph? I bet he's "comfortable with himself," too.
Nobody should pretend that NBC isn't enabling Sharpton to gain a higher political profile and greater credibility for himself. Ask Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, who hoped his comedian's platform leads to better things: "He's raising his profile so when he's raising issues of vital concern to real voters, people will listen. What Sharpton is doing is what the other candidates should be doing, too. He's knocking down the fear. He's making people see him in [a] new light. The more he connects, the greater impact he'll have." She thinks NBC has allowed Al Charlatan to show he's "a funny, astute, well-meaning guy."
Sharpton's lying manipulation of the Tawana Brawley hoax was not funny, or astute, or well-meaning. Neither were the deaths that spilled out of his "no justice, no peace" street provocations. For "Saturday Night Live" and most of the chuckle-head political culture, livening up dreadful Democratic debates absolves all the horror. There is no need for unrepentant Rev. Sharpton to repent, because no one remembers what he has done.
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