N.Y.'s Power Couple

Reverend Al Sharpton and Rupert Murdoch join forces to fight television technology

What also had Sharpton fulminating was any attempt to remind him of his prior Murdoch service in 2002, just months after the cartoon, when he traveled all the way to Colorado to picket the home of a media mogul Murdoch was then fighting. Sharpton also picketed the Washington headquarters of the mogul's company, Echo Star, as well as its investment banker, helping to block Echo Star's purchase of DirecTV. Echo Star had outbid Murdoch for DirecTV, forcing Murdoch to jump-start a campaign against it similar to the current one against Nielsen. Sharpton claimed to simultaneously have some problem with Echo Star's mistreatment of black gospel programming. Murdoch eventually got the Bush Justice Department to block the Echo Star deal, acquiring DirecTV himself in 2003 for billions less than he had previously bid, perhaps the most important deal of a stunningly successful career. In addition to his Echo Star performance, Sharpton was even posing for Post promotional ads shortly after the cartoon hoopla.

But the charge that got him calling back to bellow again was any suggestion that there might be a conflict between becoming a CNBC convention commentator and speaking in prime time, at nominee John Kerry's request, in Boston next month. Sharpton said that was all OK unless he commented on his own speech—a dual-screen visual that might send Nielsen soaring. The closest he could come to a parallel was Joe Trippi, who became a cable commentator after he quit the Howard Dean campaign and is not expected to seize the convention podium.

None of this is intended to say that Murdoch has no legitimate points to make about the Nielsen switch. The Media Rating Council refused to accredit Nielsen's New York system until the company "addresses certain matters of noncompliance with minimum standards." But the MRC also announced it's "fully supportive of people meter technology," and "condemns the use of public campaigns" like Fox's to discredit it. The MRC is apparently concerned about serious technical difficulties with the system here, which Nielsen says it's working on resolving. But that didn't come out until well after Sharpton picked up the bullhorn.

To him, Ramirez, and Miranda—all of whom may be at Ferrer's side again in next year's campaign—yesterday's racist is today's potential payday. It's they who behave as if their core constituencies have no collective memory.


Research assistance: Abby Aguirre, Caitlin Chandler, Adam Hutton, Marc Schultz, Ben Shestakofsky, and Andrea Toochin

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