News Forum (6:30 AM ET) - LOCAL
November 16, 2003 Sunday
HEADLINE: Reverend Al Sharpton discusses his campaign for president, the Democratic presidential candidates and being a preacher
ANCHORS: GABE PRESSMAN
GABE PRESSMAN, host:
The Reverend Al Sharpton, New York's controversial African-American leader, is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. He doesn't score big numbers in the polls but is famous for his sharp wit and combative style. In a recent debate, he attacked the apparent Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean, who earlier had said he wanted the votes of guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. Sharpton called the flag America's swastika. Dean declared, 'I am not a bigot, but simply trying to say that the Democrats must appeal to poor white Southerners.' Sharpton has called for bringing the troops home from Iraq. He has spoken out for spending money on jobs and housing.
Announcer: From Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center, this is a presentation from News Channel 4, Gabe Pressman's NEWS FORUM. Now your host, senior correspondent Gabe Pressman.
PRESSMAN: And the Reverend Al Sharpton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, is our guest on NEWS FORUM today. Good morning, Reverend Sharpton, and welcome.
Reverend AL SHARPTON: Good morning. Thank you.
PRESSMAN: Our reporter-or one reporter, I should say, Steve Thomma, of Knight Ridder, wrote of you this year, 'He isn't the only man running for the Democratic nomination-the presidential nomination who will lose, but no one sta-stands to gain quite as much in defeat as the Reverend Al Sharpton.' True or false?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I don't think that that's necessarily true. I think that we can win, and we're running to win, and I think it is also true that people gain from our run, regardless of the results. Certainly we gain more if we win, but we also gain from the run. We're registering voters. We're inspiring registration. One-the largest black cable network in the country is partnered with our civil rights group now that are running spots that they had not done before.
PRESSMAN: Your civil action group is Action...
Rev. SHARPTON: National Action Network.
Rev. SHARPTON: We're also creating a climate for state and county and local races, so clearly, there will be benefits e-either way, as well, and more importantly to me, as guiding this party back to really dealing with its basic constituents, labor and people of color, Latinos, who have been largely ignored and, all of a sudden, we, as a party, have not stood around the immigration issues and the issues of Vieques and other issues and African-Americans. And I think that-that we gain from moving the party back to where it can have a winning strategy based on touching the constituencies and repre-representing the constituencies that this party historically had represented in the past.
PRESSMAN: And yet, you have in the past all but conceded this election, and so the-the question becomes, what is the hidden motive or what is the real motive here? Do you want to become a national power broker for the Democratic Party, in addition to being a leader of black Democrats?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I've not conceded this election. I think that if you look at the calendar, you start in de-Washington. I think Washington is a legitimate primary.
PRESSMAN: Washington, DC.
Rev. SHARPTON: Washington, DC.
Rev. SHARPTON: And then you go into New Hampshire and Iowa, then you go South. I think we're going to do very well in the South. I think we're going to do very well in Delaware. I think we're going to do very well in Missouri. Now if that is the case and the people that are considered front-runners now do well in Iowa and New Hampshire but-but dive in the South, you end up creating a field that could end up a broken convention-in a broken convention or in a broken process. Anyone can win. You can't win if you are not involved. It's like trying to win a poker game without having a-a-a hand to play. So I think as long as we have a hand and the way we read the map, we don't concede at all we can't win, one.
Second, we can't possibly win and can't possibly influence the winner or what the party does if we're not in it, because again, you can't win or affect the game if you're outside, and I think that that is the-what is critical and why a lot of people have come out in support of my candidacy.
PRESSMAN: And yet, Donna Brazile, I believe, said something to the effect that at some point, all of you have to agree to get behind a front-runner. Do you agree with that?
Rev. SHARPTON: And I-and I-I absolutely agree, and I hope at the right time, everybody gets behind me, because I think that's where we'll end up being. I hope that Ms. Brazile and others remember they said that.
PRESSMAN: What do you see as the essential difference between you and the other candidates?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that just about every other candidate has been a career politician. I think that we're in an era where a lot of Americans are looking at-for authentic leadership, leadership that has not just made a decision that this is the right time in my career to do something.
PRESSMAN: Let me interrupt-and yet, some of these fellows will say that you're the only one who doesn't have any experience.
Rev. SHARPTON: No. There's a difference between experience and being an elected official. I have more foreign policy experience than the president that sits there now. I have more experience in guiding policy-in fact, I have affected policy not having an elective job. Some of them have had elective jobs and have never affected policy. So the-let's not confuse somebody holding a title and as someone having a function. No one would deny I have experience in public policy and have functioned in that for over 20 years.
PRESSMAN: Let me ask you ho-how you would estimate the strengths and weaknesses of some of your opponents, Howard Dean, for instance.
Rev. SHARPTON: I think Dean is very good at galvanizing his support. He had an Internet and then media-driven campaign. I think his challenge is to expand it. He just picked up two u-unions. Whether they can sell him to a broader base or not is too early to tell. But I think that he did well in-in-in a surge. Whether that can spread, whether it doesn't die in the South...
PRESSMAN: And we-we...
Rev. SHARPTON: ...I don't know. I think his weaknesses can expand upon the base, and I think also, he's got to be very careful of-of-of-of dealing with sensitivities. I think how he handled the Confederate flag flap showed some kind of an inexperience and insensitivity. It shouldn't have taken a week to apologize for something that clearly he should not have said and then represent something that is very, very, very negative to many people, not only people of African descent but many Americans. And I think the fact it took him a week really is troublesome.
PRESSMAN: So when he said that he wanted the votes of white Southerners who ca-who carried the Confederate flag...
Rev. SHARPTON: No, but that's not-that's not...
PRESSMAN: ...on his pickup trucks...
Rev. SHARPTON: ...a problem with me. When he said, 'I want to be the candidate of the people that carry the Confederate flag,' that is advocating, that is sanitizing the Co-the Confederate flag. I cannot sit on this show, Gabe, as I did on many shows in 2000, and condemn George Bush for going to speak at Bob Jones University and then not condemn somebody for saying, 'I want to be the candidate for those with the Confederate flag.' Suppose if George Bush says, 'Well, I'm going to Bob Jones University to reach out to people.'
Rev. SHARPTON: You can't have it both ways.
PRESSMAN: Let me ask briefly about the strengths and weaknesses of a couple of others: Wesley Clark.
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that Clark is good on the stump. I saw him right before he announced. We did a dinner in Knoxville, Tennessee. He's not been able to translate that yet into the debates. Whether that's because he's just getting started or not, time will tell. But I think he's better on the stump than I thought a military officer would be.
PRESSMAN: Joe Lieberman.
Rev. SHARPTON: I think Lieberman is to the right of the field. I think that he and I probably disagree on more than any of the other candidates. But I think we get along more because I think that Lieberman is definite in his views. He doesn't say what he thinks the crowd wants to hear. And I respect a man that believes and says what he believes, even if I disagree with him.
PRESSMAN: I want to ask you about what some of your critics say about you after this.
PRESSMAN: Thank-thank you, Reverend Sharpton, for being here. But I want to ask you about what some of your critics said about you recently. Cheryl McCarthy in Newsday said, 'Why don't you practice what you preach, Al, and fess up to the people you deceived?' and she was talking about the Tawana Brawley case and the fact that even though a grand jury found that Tawana Brawley's story about being assaulted was a hoax-assaulted specifically by a man who sued you, a prosecutor-that you have stood by that story instead of saying, 'Hey, it was wrong. I'm sorry. Let's move on.'
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that that is unethical journalism. A jury said that they did not agree with the evidence, and they specifically said in every statement, that they felt that we believed-specifically I believed what I was saying. So to say someone deceived someone is to say that you believed something or that you said something you didn't believe, so I think that journalist needs to be a little bit more ethical in their reporting. I represented what I believe and what I remain to believe. Why would I say something that I don't believe to satisfy politics?
I fought for the Central Park jogger case. I was castigated. Thirteen years later, after some of those young people did eight years in jail, it was overturned because the man came forward and said, 'No, I did it. They didn't do it.' Suppose if I had have apologized out of politics for them. One of those young men works in National Action Network now. He spent eight years in jail for something he didn't do, and I was condemned for standing up for him.
PRESSMAN: Do you think...
Rev. SHARPTON: You have to stand up for what you believe in.
PRESSMAN: Do you think the Brawley case has hurt your credibility?
Rev. SHARPTON: Absolutely not. I-you know, people talk about how I've done well in elections in New York. All of that happened after the Brawley case.
PRESSMAN: What about the $65,000 judgment that was awarded to your foe in that case, the prosecutor you accused of being complicit in the assault?
Rev. SHARPTON: He sued for millions, and the-and the jury came back with much, much, much less than that, and everyone said at the time, that was a statement-that they felt that they didn't believe the evidence that was presented in terms of Brawley, but they absolutely don't buy what he said, that he had suffered all these millions of dollars in damages.
PRESSMAN: But have you paid what-what they...
Rev. SHARPTON: It was paid-it was paid then. In fact, supporters have raised the money to pay-to pay the judgment off. The real question, though, Gabe, is I hope the Republicans, if I'm the nominee, raise Brawley. You know why? Because I'd like to look George Bush in the face in the debate and say, 'I stood up for a young lady that I believed in that told a story. Your administration stood up for a young woman who didn't tell a story, named Jessica Lynch, and tried to use a non-story that a victim never told to try and rally people around false policy.' I would love to debate George Bush on that issue.
PRESSMAN: So you say that the Bush administration used Jessica Lynch in order to advocate for the war?
Rev. SHARPTON: O-obviously. Jessica Lynch said that what was told didn't happen to her. I'm condemned for believing somebody who said what happened to them. We have a national disgrace and this young lady's saying, 'No, I'm not going to lie. These things didn't happen,' and no one has paid in this administration or in the military for this fabrication.
PRESSMAN: What would you say to President Bush?
Rev. SHARPTON: I would ask him, who did he find is responsible for having created this story, since the victim said this is not a story that she ever told?
PRESSMAN: You're talking about the story that she was assaulted by the Iraqis who captured her and that she was mistreated.
Rev. SHARPTON: And that-and violated in different ways. Again, we're at war. What was done at war is absolutely wrong, but to have raised it to the level they have and to embellish and create things that didn't happen and now for her to have the integrity, which she did have, to come forward and say, 'No, I'm only going to say what did happen'...
Rev. SHARPTON: ...and no one paid for the fabrications...
PRESSMAN: ...and what-and...
Rev. SHARPTON: ...I think it's a very interesting thing.
PRESSMAN: ...an-and what do you say didn't happen?
Rev. SHARPTON: No. I'm-what does she say didn't happen? She said the violations and-and the kinds of ways they rescued her didn't happen the way they said. So then who told that, and who paid for telling the American public those false...
PRESSMAN: So what do you think was the motive?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think the motive was that George Bush's military leaders or members of his administration or both-someone felt that if they embellished the story, it would get more public sympathy for their policies. And I think that that is deception. That is knowingly creating something that no victim told you. I believe what victims say. To say something that victims didn't say, that's deception of the highest order.
PRESSMAN: The Republican National Committee Web site calls you a liberal Democrat out of touch with America. What's your reply to that?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that if you deal with what the Republicans have done, that's out of touch with America. To promote a war based on weapons of mass destruction, then there are no weapons, to promote an economic policy that has, in my judgment, made the economy weaker, is out of touch with America; to have no real health-care program that covers all Americans or education program or affordable housing program. I think that the Republican Party is out of step with America. The problem is, we must get all Americans galvanized to vote. If we bring them to the polls, they can't win.
PRESSMAN: You call yourself a liberal. You're not a-you're not ashamed of that term, although it's become a dirty word. And the Republicans gathered a lot of votes. Whether they had a complete majority or not is not the issue, but they gathered a lot of vortes-votes from Americans who obviously disapprove of liberals.
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that they gathered a lot of votes because a lot of people were afraid to say, 'Yes, I believe in liberal policies and here's what they do.' So you almost win because the opposition conceded, not win because you're better. I think that now that some of us are coming forward, saying, 'No, there's nothing wrong with being a liberal if that's what a conservative is,' I think they're going to be surprised at how Americans vote in 2004.
PRESSMAN: What do you think are the issues that will determine the outcome in 2004?
Rev. SHARPTON: Education. First, the economy. I do not think that this recent bump is going to last. I think that the economy is going to continue to suffer from Bush's tax cuts and from Bush's overindulgence of billions of dollars in-in-into the Iraq war and redevelopment. Second, I think the whole state of education in this country-this president promised to repair education, leave no child behind; has not happened. Third, I think the Iraqi war-I think again, Americans are questioning how we are pumping billions of dollars into Iraq when we have record state deficits-state budget deficits all over this country. I think those three things will spell the defeat of George Bush in 2004.
PRESSMAN: You don't think that that aura, that feeling of patriotism will motivate Americans, even though we have suffered badly in some-in some ways in Iraq-you don't think that the feeling of patriotism will make Americans rally behind the president?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that real patriots rally around what is good for the country, not just what is good for the president. And real patriots say that why would we continue to have what is becoming a new Vietnam in Iraq when we need to use some of those resources to rebuild this country, to rebuild states? I propose an infrastructure redevelopment plan to create jobs. Real patriots do what's good for the country, not what's good for the political career of one president.
PRESSMAN: You regard the presidential campaign as a very serious campaign.
Rev. SHARPTON: Absolutely.
PRESSMAN: And yet, you're going to appear, I understand, in the future, on "Saturday Night Live," a comic show. How do you feel about that? Do you think that's going to help the cause...
Rev. SHARPTON: I don't know.
PRESSMAN: ...(unintelligible) the cause?
Rev. SHARPTON: It's risky. But you know what I came down to?
PRESSMAN: Did your staff know about it?
Rev. SHARPTON: Not-not before I agreed. I'd already agreed when the staff found out. But I-it came down to this for me. In '92, if Bill Clinton could put on dark shades and blow a horn on "Arsenio Hall" to reach out, then Al Sharpton can go on "Saturday Night Live" to reach out from the other side, and then I look on "Jay Leno" the other night, and John Kerry's riding on stage with a motorcycle. So, I mean, I think that these guys are going out of their way to appear regular. All I have to do is show up. I don't-nobody even has to rehearse for me.
PRESSMAN: Are you going to be on a scooter or a motorcycle?
Rev. SHARPTON: I don't know what the skits will be. It will be interesting.
PRESSMAN: You said recently, when the candidates were asked in a debate to list their favorite songs, that your favorite was "Talking Loud And Saying Nothing," which you called James Brown's song about the Republican Party.
Rev. SHARPTON: No, I di-I-I d-I dedicated the title to the Republicans. I didn't say that Brown was necessarily talking about them. But I think that the Republicans have promised America a lot and have not delivered. It's-it's-it's just a lot of sound with really no substance to back it up, and I think their report card is due, and we're going to read it loud all of 2004.
PRESSMAN: What do you think the song would be that would be most apt to describe you?
Rev. SHARPTON: To-to describe me? Another James Brown song, the only gospel song he ever did, called "God Has Smiled On Me." In fact, he did it with me. I preached and he sang.
PRESSMAN: Let's go back-come back and talk about some personal things after this.
PRESSMAN: Back here with the Reverend Al Sharpton, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. Reverend Sharpton, let's talk about your earlier life. You started preaching when you were four?
Rev. SHARPTON: I preached my first sermon when I was four.
PRESSMAN: And where was that?
Rev. SHARPTON: Washington Temple Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn, under Bishop F.D. Washington. I preached from St. John's, the 14th chapter, 'Let not your heart be troubled. Ye who believe in God believe also in me.'
PRESSMAN: And what was the reaction of the congregation to that first sermon?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I guess they were a little surprised a four-year-old kid-as-as much as I can remember, they were very supportive. There was about 900 people there that day. And I grew up preaching until I was finally ordained around nine. In fact, I remember in '64, I was nine, I preached at the New York World's Fair. Sometimes when I riding down Grand Central Park, where I look at the New York Pavilion, the remnants...
PRESSMAN: Right, right.
Rev. SHARPTON: ...I remember the night I preached there. Mahalia Jackson sang. I was nine years-that was 40 years ago.
PRESSMAN: Wow. I remember that fair, too, and Bob Moses was the-was the guru. He was the-the-the presence there. You used to play stickball on Friday night and preach to the parents of the kids on Sunday.
Rev. SHARPTON: Used to play stickball, go to school with kids, and their parents would come hear me preach, so I've been...
PRESSMAN: How did the kids take that?
Rev. SHARPTON: It was-it was awkward, I-I guess. But I guess that also gave me the courage early in life that you stand out. I tried to-I lived as normal a life as you can to be a boy preacher, and I guess that's not very normal.
PRESSMAN: Now your parents and yo-were separated, and you had a surrogate father, James Brown.
Rev. SHARPTON: Right. James Brown had a son who was my age, Teddy, who was killed in a car accident in New York, and he kind of took me as his son.
PRESSMAN: Killed in a car accident?
Rev. SHARPTON: Yes. And he took me as his son. Teddy had lived in New York, was kind of part of our youth group, and Brown kind of adopted me as his. Since I didn't have a father at home, he became like a father figure to me. I had other mentors, Reverend William Jones and-and Reverend Jesse Jackson, but Brown became like a personal father to me.
PRESSMAN: In your autobiography, "Go and Tell the Pharaoh," you say that a stabbing attempt-the one in, I think, 1991--changed the whole course of your life.
Rev. SHARPTON: When I was stabbed, I was leading a peaceful march in Bensonhurst around the racial killing of Yusuf Hawkins. I think it made me take life more seriously. I think that you are confronted with your mortality, and you start saying that you'd rather use whatever time you have more seriously. It didn't change my views. It just changed how I would be more sober and serious about getting things done.
PRESSMAN: This triggers in me a memory of a hospital corridor before Martin Luther King was actually assassinated, that-when he was stabbed at a bookstore in Harlem, and I was-I was there. I remember, I mean, at the hospital-and I guess that wasn't a turning point in his life, but the stabbing happened soon after the incident with him.
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that any time you face your own mortality...
PRESSMAN: Not soon after, but-but a decade later.
Rev. SHARPTON: Yeah. But I think any time you face your own mortality, it makes you reflect, and that's also-you know, wha-what's interesting to me is that all the bios written about me and profiles, they never talk about how even when that guy stabbed me, who was white and who was race baiting, that I went and forgave. I visited him in jail. But I guess that doesn't fit with the polarizing image some of the right wing wants to try and promote about me.
PRESSMAN: It fits with the image of a preacher, though.
Rev. SHARPTON: It fits with the image of a preacher that believes in redemption, and I think you can only judge people about what they really believe by what they do if they're in that position.
PRESSMAN: Do you think-do you believe that your chief opponent in this election, whom we've already described, George Bush-do you believe that he can be redeemed?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, anyone can be redeemed, but I think that whether you go...
PRESSMAN: Even a nasty reporter?
Rev. SHARPTON: Even a nasty-I've seen some nasty reporters redeemed, very rarely, but sometimes. But di-Bush can be redeemed, but I would rather see his redemption process happen in Crawford, Texas, not in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because it may take longer than America can afford to wait.
PRESSMAN: Your first television show that you remember-I read somewhere, I think in Salon magazine-was "The Ed Sullivan Show."
Rev. SHARPTON: To-that I watched?
Rev. SHARPTON: Oh, yeah. That was the old...
PRESSMAN: Variety-variety show.
Rev. SHARPTON: Yeah. I used to watch "Ed Sullivan." I-when I was growing up, "Ed Sullivan" was television. I mean, everybody used to watch "Ed Sullivan" on Sunday night.
PRESSMAN: And wh-what were your thoughts when you watched that?
Rev. SHARPTON: I re-I remember when James Brown first went on. I re-and who I didn't know at the time, and others. I-I remember it was a real breakthrough to see blacks on "The Ed Sullivan Show." And when I see a lot of sitcoms now and different shows now with-with Latinos and blacks, I-I can remember-and I'm not 50 yet-but I can remember when you-you just couldn't take that for granted, and I-I remember how proud I was watching James Brown and Nat King Cole and others-and I was five or six years old-on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
PRESSMAN: You were quoted, I think, in the Salon interview as saying your favorite s-expression from the Reverend King was, "If you just keep on going, if you turn the corner, the sun will be shining."
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that it's a-it's a testimony of determination. No civil rights leader-and I come out of that movement...
Rev. SHARPTON: ...human rights leader ever made it without being victimized in adversity. You've got to have determination.
PRESSMAN: Thank you very much, Reverend Sharpton, for being with us this morning.
Gabe Pressman. Good day.
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