Comcast, Al Sharpton Hit With $20 Billion Racial Discrimination Lawsuit
The National Association of African-American Owned Media alleges that (CI6) Al Sharpton and other advocates have been bought off.
Even though the FCC hasn’t yet ruled on the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, one group has already filed a lawsuit claiming at least $20 billion in damages from the way the two giants allegedly discriminate against black-owned media.
This time, the plaintiff is not only targeting both Comcast and TWC — on the eve of the two companies merging to become what would be the largest pay television distributor in the United States — but also various African-American advocacy groups and MSNBC host Al Sharpton for allegedly facilitating discrimination.
The lawsuit figures to face many hurdles, from the sufficiency of its allegations to possibly the First Amendment, but for now it presents a larger portrait of a media company that isn’t carrying many fully owned black channels and the dangers of allowing it to grow bigger.
“We do not generally comment on pending litigation, but this complaint represents nothing more than a string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations,” responds Comcast in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
Sharpton tells us that he “welcomes the opportunity to answer the frivolous allegations” and says he will be bringing counterclaims for defamation.
According to the lawsuit, Comcast and TWC “collectively spend approximately $25 billion annually for the licensing of pay-television channels and advertising of their products and services, yet 100% African American–owned media receives less than $3 million per year.”
At the time of Comcast’s 2010 acquisition of NBCUniversal, Comcast entered into memoranda of understanding with the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, but the lawsuit says the voluntary diversity agreements are “a sham, undertaken to whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices.”
The plaintiff objects that the only fully black-owned channel picked up by Comcast is the Africa Channel, and that entity is owned by former Comcast/NBCU exec Paula Madison, who “was directly involved in putting together the sham MOUs and obtaining government approval for the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal, thus creating a serious conflict of interest.”
Other black channels are said to be “window dressing,” with black celebrities as “fronts” when they are “white-owned businesses” that are run by friends or family of Comcast executives.
The lawsuit goes on to say that Comcast made large cash “donations” to obtain support for its acquisition. The money includes $3.8 million to Sharpton and his National Action Network. The money, it’s charged, was meant to pay Sharpton to endorse the NBCU deal and divert attention away from discrimination. As for Sharpton’s MSNBC gig, the complaint says, “Despite the notoriously low ratings that Sharpton’s show generates, Comcast has allowed Sharpton to maintain his hosting position for more than three years in exchange for Sharpton’s continued public support for Comcast on issues of diversity.”
Sharpton objects that the budget for National Action Network is not even $4 million, and as for his MSNBC show, he believes he has the most successful show in the 6 p.m. hour at MSNBC, that “the numbers speak for themselves.” The lawsuit seems to count Sharpton’s reported $750,000 annual salary at MSNBC as part of the $3.8 million and leverages past criticism of the noted “civil rights leader” that’s rooted in him allegedly turning an eye and forgoing boycotts and protests on corporations upon receiving monetary contributions to the National Action Network.
As for support to the theory of discrimination in contracting, the lawsuit says Comcast has a “Jim Crow” process with respect to licensing black-owned channels, and that one Comcast exec stated, “We’re not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons,” referring to the founder of Black Entertainment Television.
The NAAAOM is suing along with Entertainment Studios Networks, which was founded by Byron Allen and now has a television operation with stations like Justice Central that reach 7.5 million consumers through deals with smaller pay TV distributors.
Representing the plaintiffs are Louis “Skip” Miller at Miller Barondess. The attorney has been a mainstay for many years on The Hollywood Reporter‘s list of the 100 most powerful lawyers in the entertainment industry. Besides representing clients including Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, Elton John and Bob Dylan, he also defended the city of Los Angeles in the Rodney King civil rights case.
A Comcast spokesperson responds, “We are proud of our outstanding record supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African-Americans”
View documents at Hollywood Reporter
Al Sharpton is all about the Benjamins, a daughter of police chokehold victim Eric Garner claims in a bombshell videotape.
Erica Snipes tees off on the reverend as interested primarily in money during a conversation secretly recorded by controversial conservative activist James O’Keefe’s group, Project Veritas.
One of O’Keefe’s investigators with a hidden camera posed as a Garner supporter during a protest last month at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island.
“You think Al Sharpton is kind of like a crook in a sense?” the investigator is heard asking Garner’s oldest daughter.
“He’s about this,” Snipes replies, rubbing her fingers together.
“He’s about money with you?” the undercover asks.
“Yeah,” Snipes responds.
Snipes, 24, also complained that the Staten Island director of Sharpton’s National Action Network, Cynthia Davis, scolded her for handing out street fliers about her father’s case that did not include NAN’s logo.
“She started attacking me. ‘Oh, I see that you got this flier out, how come you didn’t add the logo?’ ’’ Snipes said.
The undercover then asks, “They want their logo on your fliers?”
“Instead of me, he wants his face in front,” Snipes says, referring to Sharpton
“But it’s not about them, it’s about your dad,” the undercover says.
“Exactly,” Snipes responds.
“Al Sharpton paid for the funeral. She’s trying to make me feel like I owe them,” she adds.
In an interview with The Post on Monday night, Snipes denied that she had accused Sharpton of being a money-grubber.
“No, I didn’t say that I think Al Sharpton is all about the money,” she said.
‘Al Sharpton paid for the funeral. [NAN Director Cynthia Davis is] trying to make me feel like I owe them.’
– Erica Snipes
But she stood by her criticism of Davis, the NAN director, who she claimed tried to block her from attending a protest at the Staten Island Museum against mass incarceration.
Sharpton on Monday night accused Project Veritas of “exploiting” Snipes and a dispute within the Garner family.
“They’re splicing and dicing stuff together. It was a distortion. Erica is a sincere victim. She was not trying to infer anything with me,” Sharpton said of the secret recording.
Sharpton said the premise of the criticism is flat wrong. He said NAN helps families, including paying for funerals, and does not take money from them. He said Snipes’ sister, Emerald, now works for NAN.
Moreover, he said, NAN organizes rallies after receiving legal permits from the city and therefore requests that its logo be put on fliers for events it sponsors.
In the video, Sharpton is also criticized by leaders and supporters involved in the Michael Brown police shooting case in Ferguson, Mo., and the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, according to the Project Veritas videotapes.
Jean Petrus, a Brooklyn businessman who attended a recent Trayvon Martin Foundation fundraiser in Florida, is also seen criticizing Sharpton in the secretly taped video.
“He knows how to make money and get money. They’re shakedown guys to me. You know, let’s call it what it is, they’re shakedown,” he says in the video.
Esaw Garner, wife of the late Eric Garner, cries as the Rev. Al Sharpton leads a vigil on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, in Staten Island.
Photo: Chad Rachman
Petrus told The Post on Monday night that he never consented to an interview and considers himself a “friend of Sharpton.”
“It was an entrapment situation,” Petrus said. “It’s really underhanded.”
“To some degree, he sort of incites people for the wrong reason,” the bishop says. “I’m in the gathering. He got them all fired up. But I just sense this is not the way you want to go.”
Sharpton dismissed the criticism, saying he went to Ferguson at the request of Brown’s family.
“I condemned the violence in Ferguson,” he said.
The Post attempted to contact all the subjects in the Veritas video documentary. Two responded.
Lawyer Darryl Parks, who is involved with the Trayvon Martin Foundation, said “there may be a little truth in that” when asked in a secret recording whether Sharpton is “all about his money.”
Parks on Monday night told The Post that he was “totally misconstrued” by a woman who misrepresented herself as a donor willing to give $50,000 to the foundation. He said it was a lengthy interview taken out of context.
“This is operating under false disguise. It’s nothing but hogwash,” said Parks, who stressed that he supports Sharpton.
Another subject, Vivian Dudley of One Outreach Ministry in Ferguson, said in the video that she was “not quite sure what Al Sharpton did” when he visited there following Brown’s death. She confirmed that two people identifying themselves as documentarians openly interviewed her.
“They asked me about Sharpton. I don’t have anything bad to say about anybody,” Dudley said Monday night.
Other subjects did not respond or could not be reached for comment.
The National Action Network issued a statement Tuesday on behalf of Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and widow, Esaw Garner.
“Today’s NY Post front page story is deeply misleading about the relationship between our family, National Action Network, and Rev. Al Sharpton.
“As the mother and head of the estate of Eric Garner, and the widow of Eric Garner, let us be clear: We reached out and asked for help and assistance from Rev. Al Sharpton and National Action Network in the wake of Eric’s death. National Action Network and Rev. Al Sharpton have honored all of our requests, including covering the expenses of Eric’s funeral. We believe that their involvement is solely based on their commitment for justice for Eric and our family. It is National Action Network’s policy that they do not accept monies or even reimbursement from victim’s families.
“Erica made it clear in this NY Post article that the way the interview was conducted was extremely deceptive and her comments were taken out of context.
“We appreciate the work that National Action and Rev. Sharpton has done and continues to do for our family. The best way to continue to seek justice and honor Eric is through peaceful demonstrations, including by attending this Saturday’s rally with Rev. Sharpton at National Action Network.”