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Fox News has a major bone to pick with its left-leaning rival, MSNBC, and that bone is Al Sharpton.
Bill O’Reilly, Howard Kurtz and Megyn Kelly are just some of the Fox hosts calling out Sharpton for, they say, crossing ethical lines and tarnishing MSNBC’s coverage of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo.
At issue: Sharpton’s dual roles as host of MSNBC’s Politics Nation and advocate for Brown’s family in events that followed his fatal shooting by police officer Darren Wilson, including giving the eulogy at Brown’s Aug. 25 funeral. Even worse to the Fox News gang is how much President Barack Obama’s administration is leaning on Sharpton as "a de facto contact and conduit" on race issues, according to a Politico Magazine profile.
Appearing on The O’Reilly Factor on the same night as Brown’s funeral, Kelly criticized Sharpton for getting ahead of the facts in his fiery speeches to emotional crowds. It was the same segment in which she and O’Reilly debated the concept of "white privilege," with Kelly presenting several economic, social and educational statistics to show how blacks are disadvantaged in this country.
"What they don't need in this case, or in any case, is people like Al Sharpton going in there and declaring as a matter of fact that the, that Michael Brown didn't use any deadly force or posed no deadly threat to the officer," Kelly said.
O’Reilly said, "Absolutely, that just alienates everybody."
"If you have somebody come in and prejudge -- someone you trust and rely upon -- come and tell you the facts are one way, you believe him," Kelly said of Sharpton. "That's why he is abusing his power."
We wanted to know if Sharpton flat-out said Brown "didn’t use any deadly force" before he was killed.
The official story of what happened before Brown was shot at least six times is not entirely known -- a factor driving the unrest against law enforcement. A grand jury is weighing evidence in the case and will decide whether to indict Wilson, and the St. Louis County Police Department and FBI are investigating the shooting.
CNN and Vox have compiled guides to varying accounts from witnesses and law enforcement about what happened. Before noon, there was an alleged strong-arm robbery involving Brown and friend Dorian Johnson at a convenience store. Shortly after, Wilson stopped the men for walking in the middle of a street, without knowing they were suspects in the robbery, Ferguson’s police chief has said.
Some witnesses and Brown’s advocates say Brown had been shot and was turning around to face Wilson with his hands raised when Wilson fired at him again, hitting his head. Wilson told police that Brown assaulted him, pushed him inside of his patrol car, and tried to grab his handgun, and the town’s police chief said Wilson sought medical care for his swollen face after the altercation.
We won’t go into more detail in this fact-check about the various accounts, but we thought it was important to highlight how the narratives conflict.
We may never know what really happened, said David Klinger, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at University of Missouri-St Louis.
"For anybody who hasn’t seen the investigative case file to say that he categorically is confident that it was not possible that Mr. Brown posed a threat to Officer Wilson’s life, he is simply wrong," Klinger said.
What Sharpton said
About a week before Brown’s funeral, Sharpton addressed Ferguson residents at a unity rally. Sharpton says he was invited to town by Brown’s grandfather.
Sharpton decried the release of security footage from the convenience store as a post-mortem smear of Brown’s character that did nothing to illuminate what happened before he died.
"But the issue is not whether he shoplifted. The issue is not what he did before," Sharpton said Aug. 17. "The issue is how a young man with no deadly threat, no life-extenuating circumstances, was shot multiple times. That’s the issue, and that’s the issue America has got to deal with."
Kelly highlighted this part of his speech in her Aug. 19 edition of The Kelly File and alluded to it on O’Reilly’s show Aug. 25.
Sharpton’s defense: I’m not ‘Walter Cronkite’
Sharpton defended himself in an interview with PunditFact. He does not deny that he said essentially what Kelly described.
But he said his audience knows his point of view and that he was giving his opinion that Brown posed "no deadly threat" because he was unarmed. No one disputes that Brown did not have a gun.
"People don’t think that I’m Walter Cronkite reporting the news," he said. "That’s my opinion, just like they’re giving their opinion on white privilege."
He shifted his rhetoric a bit when asked about Kelly’s specific qualm, saying he believes there is no "apparent" evidence that Brown posed a deadly threat.
Sharpton also said, if anything, O’Reilly and other Fox News hosts are just as guilty of expressing their viewpoints.
"If (O’Reilly) can write books and all of them over there can write books on their opinions, how can you tell me don’t go to a rally on my opinion?" Sharpton said. "We’re all advocates. I use my feet to advocate, they use the pen to advocate."
Kelly could not be reached through a Fox spokeswoman or Twitter.
In criticizing Sharpton, Kelly said, Sharpton went to Ferguson, Mo., and is "declaring as a matter of fact that ... Michael Brown didn't use any deadly force or posed no deadly threat to the officer."
That’s not exactly what Sharpton said, but it’s pretty close. The only possible caveat is Sharpton says he was speaking as a matter of opinion based on what he had so far, more than a matter of fact. That’s in the eye of the beholder.
Kelly’s statement is accurate. We rate it True.
Interview with Al Sharpton, Aug. 26, 2014
Interview with David Klinger, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at University of Missouri-St Louis, Aug. 28, 2014
CNN, "What happened when Michael Brown met Darren Wilson," Aug. 27, 2014
YouTube, "Megyn Kelly confronts pastor for reversing Sharpton criticism," Aug. 20, 2014
Washington Post’s Erik Wemple blog, "Fox News blasts MSNBC’s Al Sharpton for role in Ferguson," Aug. 26, 2014
Fox News, "How Al Sharpton is using Obama, Ferguson and MSNBC to boost his influence," Aug. 25, 2014
Vox.com card, "Why was Michael Brown shot?" Aug. 27, 2014
Politico Magazine, "Revved Up," Aug. 21, 2014
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