The Reverend Al Sharpton said the New York Times wanted to blunt his power as a national civil-rights leader by reporting that he owed millions of dollars in tax liens and penalties incurred several years ago.
Sharpton, 60, said he’s been paying his personal federal income taxes on time in quarterly installments and that his organization, the National Action Network, has paid millions of dollars to bring it up to date on current tax liability. He acknowledged that it still owes millions of dollars in disputed penalties under appeal.
“The story is at best misleading and totally out of context,” Sharpton said today at a news briefing at his Harlem-based headquarters.
The newspaper reported on its website yesterday that the activist, who has emerged as a key adviser to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, owed about $4.5 million in federal tax liens.
It revisited stories from Sharpton’s past, including offensive comments about Hasidic Jews and a 1993 guilty plea for the misdemeanor of failing to file a state income-tax return. The article also recalled his participation in the defamation of a prosecutor accused of raping teenager Tawana Brawley in 1987, an allegation a grand jury later found was false.
Sharpton, who hosts a show on MSNBC, said the newspaper didn’t question his finances during the years 2006 to 2009, when the matter arose, a period in which he said he acted as an adviser to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and also conferred with former President George W. Bush. The former mayor is founder and majority shareholder of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
“I think it’s political,” Sharpton said of article, which appeared on the front page today. “A lot of people don’t like the fact that President Obama is president. A lot of people don’t like the fact that Bill de Blasio won for mayor. And they certainly don’t like the fact that I’m still here.”
After taking several questions on the matter for about 45 minutes, Sharpton adjourned the news briefing, telling reporters, “I’ll see y’all.”
Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, e-mailed the newspaper’s response to Sharpton’s comments, saying, “We stand by our story.”