‘Racial Extortionist’?

Al Sharpton, ‘PoliticsNation’ Advertisers Targeted in New Boycott

A new group bent on unmasking ‘leftists in the media’ has its first target. David Freedlander reports.

Earl Gibson III/Getty

A group of conservative activists, tired of what they see as a persistent and little remarked liberal bias in the news media, are set to begin a series of boycotts aimed at advertisers who sponsor what they see as left-wing networks, outlets, and journalists.

On Sunday they announced their first target, the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil-rights leader turned MSNBC talk-show host whose PoliticsNation has grown in influence and audience since making its debut two years ago.

“Sharpton is a racial extortionist who has instigated racial animosities, violence, and division in America for the last forty years,” write the boycott’s organizers. “In better times, Sharpton would be stigmatized and condemned for the damage he has done. But today he is a primetime host on MSNBC—the charter cable news network for NBC News, and a favored outlet for the Obama administration’s spin doctors.”

The boycott is part of Truth Revolt, a new project by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a right-wing foundation that has focused on what it calls liberal bias in Hollywood and on college campuses. Truth Revolt, which says its purpose is to “unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American public, and devastate their funding bases,” is led by Ben Shapiro, an editor-at-large for the conservative website Breitbart News and the author, most recently, of Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America.

The first Sharpton sponsor the group is targeting is Ritz Crackers, owned by Chicago-based Mondelez International. Shapiro said Truth Revolt chose Mondelez because it bills itself as a “family-friendly company” and because it was one of the few advertisers to respond to the group’s inquiries about why it supports the Sharpton show.

As part of its response, Mondelez International said in a statement to Truth Revolt: “At Mondelez International we demonstrate our commitment to responsible corporate citizenship by participating in programs that best serve a wide range of local communities and their interests and needs. We extend our responsibility to the sponsorship of tasteful, believable television programming and we avoid sponsorship of programs that would be unacceptable in terms of generally accepted social or community standards.”

Asked if it was fair for to target the company with a boycott after it responded to the group’s inquiries, Shapiro said, “Is it fair that in the political media we only quote people who give us a quote?”

Shapiro also cited as reason for picking Ritz and Mondelez a speech Sharpton gave at Kean College in 1994, in which he said: “Do some cracker come and tell you, ‘Well my mother and father blood go back to the Mayflower,’ you better hold your pocket. That ain’t nothing to be proud of, that means their forefathers was crooks.”

“Sharpton doesn’t dislike all ‘crackers,’” Shapiro writes on the Truth Revolt website.

The group says Sharpton is worthy of a boycott because of his role in the Tawana Brawley case and the Crown Heights riots in New York in the 1980s. He has since run for mayor of New York and for president of the United States, and has become a sought-after political powerbroker in New York and in Washington, D.C., where he has met several times with President Obama.

Asked why the group was dredging up 25-year-old incidents to spur a boycott, Shapiro said Sharpton has not recanted those incidents and that he has gone yet further by leading rallies against George Zimmerman to protest the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“He went down to Sanford and threatened civil disobedience against the city if Zimmerman wasn’t arrested and then used that as fodder for his show,” Shapiro said. “He uses the platform of his show for a racially divisive shakedown of the kind that he [promoted] during the Tawana Brawley case.”

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Representatives for Sharpton and MSNBC did not respond to request for comment.

Truth Revolt was founded earlier this year and is designed as a counterweight to Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group that calls attention to contentious, offensive, or erroneous statements by members of the media. But while Media Matters focuses mostly on conservative talk radio hosts and Fox News, Truth Revolt will take on the mainstream press for what it sees as often an hidden liberal agenda. And Truth Revolt plans to bring active pressure to bear on sponsors and advertisers, as it is doing with Ritz and Sharpton.

“The goal is to be a response not only to Media Matters but to a new tactic used plentifully by the left, which is the attempt to go after conservative hosts and commentators by cutting off their base of support, both in the funding community and in the advertising community,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro himself was the target of media critics earlier this year when he reported that Chuck Hagel had given paid speeches for a group called “Friends of Hamas.” The group turned out to be fictitious, made up by a New York Daily News writer, who inquired rhetorically about it in a message to a GOP congressional aide, who then apparently passed along the made-up name to Shapiro.

Shapiro defended his conduct during that saga, saying he was merely reporting the rumor and that his reporting was of a similar standard to that in The Washington Post and other mainstream outlets.

“Everybody is an imperfect messenger,” he said. “If this is the argument, that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, then there are never going to be any journalistic standards. I am still searching for the journalist who has never made a mistake.”

And he said boycotts like the one aimed at Sharpton are just the beginning.

“Politics is a hard-nosed game, and the right has been playing Marquess of Queensbury Rules for a long time on this,” he said.