The Tie That Binds Darrell Issa and Al Sharpton

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Surfing the news this morning, I was treated to a double dip of sludge, clicking from a Politico story on Representative Darrell Issa over to a Daily Beast article on Al Sharpton.

Issa's love of political theater and his penchant for wild accusations have rendered the House Oversight Committee he chairs completely ineffective. His investigations have been a joke. His hearings are models of partisan hackery. Yesterday he called White House press secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar" -- the kind of language that someone with Issa's record of falsehoods should probably avoid.

But in the annals of cheap demagogy, the California Republican is a footnote compared with the Reverend Sharpton. I've never gotten over MSNBC's appalling decision to hire Sharpton as a host. Apparently Stuart Stevens hasn't either. In his Daily Beast article, he dredges up the Tawana Brawley affair, a hoax so personally vicious and socially destructive that Sharpton's central role in it should have permanently disqualified him from any position of responsibility anywhere in American society.

In 1987, Brawley was a 15-year-old found in her hometown of Wappingers Falls, New York, with racial and sexist epithets scrawled on her body and feces in her hair. She said she had been abducted and raped by white men.

A trio of increasingly prominent, and radical, New York City black activists represented her and her family: attorneys Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Brawley told them said that a cop had been one of her attackers and Sharpton named that officer as Harry Crist, Jr., a police officer from a nearby town who had committed suicide shortly after Brawley was found. Sharpton also named a local prosecutor, Steven Pagones, as one of the attackers. He offered no proof.

"He offered no proof."

That's the tie that binds Issa and Sharpton. Yet one of them has the gavel of an important House committee. The other has a national television show. Both are disgraceful. So are their employers.

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To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net