The Rev. Al Sharpton unleashed a formal assault on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. today, accusing it of dredging up old tax debts for his civil rights organization in retaliation for holding his Reclaim the Dream rally the same day as Fox News TV host Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor event, which took place at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial nearly two weeks ago.
The New York Post, which, like Fox News, is owned by News Corp., reported on Tuesday that an April 2 audit of Sharpton's National Action Network, headquartered in New York City, revealed that it is in financial disarray. NAN owed an estimated $1.3 million in city, state and federal taxes at the end of 2008, according to the Post.
But a letter dated Sept. 7 from the group's accounting firm said the story did not accurately reflect or quote any written statement from the audit and that NAN has made significant improvements. The civil rights group has 38 chapters across the nation, including Los Angeles and Chicago. Sharpton told The Root he plans to open 15 more by the end of the year.
"This was a totally bogus attack from the people in that company based on the success of our ability to get tens of thousands of people out there against Glenn Beck," Sharpton said in an exclusive interview with The Root. "They're also trying to get those who contribute to NAN to worry that we are about to close. We're not. We're stronger than ever and our tax liabilities are close to being settled, with 95 percent of the debt already paid."
"His claim is unworthy of a response," the New York Post said today in response to Sharpton's claim.
Still, Sharpton believes that his rally may have forced Beck and fellow Tea Party icon Sarah Palin to tamp down their rhetoric toward President Barack Obama and their assertions that he is eroding the nation's civil rights.
"In the past, Beck has called the president racist [he later amended the charge]," Sharpton said, "but they didn't during their Restoring Honor rally because we were just blocks away. Before their rally, he was talking about how they were going to reclaim Dr. King's dream. We made them change. This tax thing was their backlash.
"I would have thought, though, that they would have come back with something a little better than a two-and-a-half-year-old audit report. The good news is that a lot of people have been calling to send donations. So they helped us out. The reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive."
Indeed, right-wing media interests have been known to whipsaw those who speak out against them. NAACP President Ben Jealous became a target of conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart when he called on the Tea Party to "repudiate the racist element and activities" within its ranks. That call led to one of the biggest political gaffes by the White House and the NAACP in recent memory. The blogger retaliated by releasing a video of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod that was edited to make her appear to be making biased remarks at an NAACP event about her dealings with a white farmer. The initial outcry led to her forced resignation by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
As the denouement played out, the White House and Jealous denounced Sherrod's alleged statements, even though she meant the opposite of what was portrayed in the video. Both the White House and the NAACP later apologized.
Sharpton said that the attack only sharpened his resolve to help raise votes for the embattled Democratic Party for the upcoming midterm elections in November. A political pugilist with decades of civil rights experience, he can galvanize masses from multiple platforms, including NAN, pulpits on Sunday mornings and four radio talk shows.
He also plans to use a new syndicated television show that airs on Oct. 3 to educate voters about the importance of the upcoming election season, he said. The show will appear on different stations in several markets, according to Rachel Noerdlinger, a spokeswoman for Sharpton.
"If anything, this attack only intensifies my plans to keep the pressure on," Sharpton said. "We know we're getting to them. We have to make sure there is turnout for the midterm elections. They operate with smear tactics that are at best thin, and this case is very thin. I don't know of any civil rights organization that doesn't have financial challenges, but we're moving beyond it."
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.