Controversial MSNBC Hosts to Cover South Carolina Convention

Al Sharpton and Joy Reid will be live on MSNBC to interview all 21 Democratic presidential candidates

Rev. Al Sharpton (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
June 20, 2019

Two controversial MSNBC hosts will be front and center for the network's exclusive coverage of Saturday's South Carolina Democratic Party convention.

Al Sharpton and Joy Reid will be live on MSNBC to interview all 21 Democratic presidential candidates after they give speeches at the convention on Saturday. The two, who are unabashedly pro-Democrat, host weekend shows on the left-leaning cable network.

South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson told the Associated Press that MSNBC was selected in part because of the key role of black voters in the state's Democratic primary. Reid and Sharpton are black, as are 30 percent of MSNBC's weekend viewers, according to the Associated Press. They've become mainstays at MSNBC in spite of considerable personal baggage.

Sharpton, who hosts PoliticsNation on Sunday mornings, is known for his controversial early career as a street-preaching, racial firebrand.

Sharpton has refused to apologize for his part in the infamous Tawana Brawley case. Brawley received the support of Sharpton and other prominent black leaders when she claimed in 1987 to have been brutally raped and had racial epithets scrawled on her by white men, including police officers and a New York prosecutor, Steven Pagones. A grand jury investigation found Brawley fabricated the story, and Pagones successfully sued Sharpton for defamation, although the damages were eventually paid out by his supporters.

Sharpton also played a key role in the deadly 1991 Crown Heights riots, a tipping point in relations between New York's Jews and African Americans. Sharpton referred to Jews as "diamond dealers" in the aftermath of an accident when a Jewish man struck and killed a black youth and injured another with his car. He also led a march on the Jewish Sabbath where participants yelled anti-Semitic slurs; later, a group of young black men killed a Jewish student, Yankel Rosenbaum.

At a rally days before the Crown Heights incident, Sharpton said, "If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house."

Sharpton has also been beset by financial issues. He was indicted in 1989 on 67 felony counts of tax evasion, larceny and fraud, but he was acquitted on all charges. He did plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to file state income tax. In 2014, the New York Times reported the IRS had more than $4.5 million in liens against him and his for-profit businesses.

Sharpton has reinvented himself over the past 20 years as a Democratic Party kingmaker and was especially cozy with the Barack Obama administration, famously stating he would never publicly criticize the country's first black president.

Reid, who hosts AM Joy on Saturday and Sunday mornings, apologized in 2017 when a reporter revealed past homophobic posts on her defunct blog on Florida politics. However, she claimed to have been hacked and called for an FBI investigation when further homophobic, Islamophobic, and juvenile posts from the blog were revealed last April, despite their similarity to the posts she admitted months earlier to writing.

She ultimately apologized when media outlets found no evidence to substantiate her claims.

Nevertheless, on the April 28 episode of "AM Joy," she still did not take responsibility, saying, "I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things because they are completely alien to me. But I can definitely understand, based on things I have said and have written in the past, that some people don't believe me."

Sharpton and Reid both once had weekday shows on MSNBC. Reid's short-lived The Reid Report was cancelled in 2015 due to low ratings, and Sharpton was banished to the weekend that same year for similar reasons.

The arrangement with MSNBC regarding the South Carolina convention is unusual. Fox News, CNN, and even CSPAN are vexed by being cut out of airing the event live.