A Reasonable Man: How Track-Suited Firebrand Al Sharpton Became the Most Thoughtful Voice on Cable

He used the weather-report crack, again, at a recent Saturday broadcast from the National Action Network’s “House of Justice” in Harlem. The crowd roared its approval, as they did with most of his laugh lines; an elderly woman in the audience remarked, “I call him the next Chris Rock.”

Before Mr. Sharpton’s entrance at 10 a.m. sharp at the Saturday NAN gathering, which is a hybrid of sorts between church service and activist meet-up, a female speaker decried Nicki Minaj’s apparent endorsement of Mitt Romney (which the rapper herself has disavowed). “When I look at certain celebrities, I look at what they’ve done. How engaged are you in community activism? If you’ve never seen them on the ground, why would what they say matter?”

A choir member announced, “We should be thankful that we are blessed, that we are educated, that we can tell somebody something.” Then Rev. Sharpton took the stage, swaying to the beat but unsmiling.

“What do we waaaaaant,” he sang. The room was packed with guests who knew the answer: “justice.” Rev. Sharpton added, “Some people cheat and come at 10, because that’s when I get up here. But you don’t have a seat this morning.”

He discussed, briefly, the Trayvon Martin killing this year; he was frustrated, he told the crowd, that he had been perceived to be seeking publicity from a case he took credit for bringing to the public’s attention. (After Mr. Sharpton urged due process for George Zimmerman, Martin’s shooter, he was criticized by some media observers for full-throated political advocacy on top of his journalistic duties.) “Later the press tried to act like we rode in on the publicity,” he went on. “No. We started the publicity. Was I an ambulance chaser? No, I’m an ambulance.”

He exhorted the crowd to never lose the power to define themselves. “In my life I’ve had ups and downs. I keep going. You know why I like having my MSNBC show on at six o’clock? Not four o’clock or nine o’clock? I think about my critics, who said I’d never do anything. My show comes on at six o’clock, about the time my critics come home and put dinner on the table!”

A Reasonable Man: How Track-Suited Firebrand Al Sharpton Became the Most Thoughtful Voice on Cable