"An Open Letter to Al Sharpton" (Originally Published, 12.4.07)
It's been eating you alive, hasn't it?
You've been sitting there at home, fidgeting like a smack addict in need of a fix, desperate to satisfy the need that drives you 24/7 -- the one that calls out to you in the middle of the night and just won't go away until it's fed.
It's okay, Al -- I understand. It's not your fault; it's your disease.
You suffer from ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder.
Your body goes into withdrawals when you've been deprived of attention for too long.
It's a common condition these days, although you admittedly have a particularly acute case of it.
How long has it been for you, Al? How long has it been since some negligibly curious racial controversy popped into the public consciousness and provided you the perfect gaping hole in which to insert yourself? When was the last time you got the chance to blow what might otherwise have been an innocuous and easily rectifiable situation completely out of proportion, turning it into an international incident? When were you last afforded the perfect excuse to forgo honest, constructive dialogue in favor of draconian public demagoguery?
How long has it been since you've seen yourself on TV, Al?
I know, man, it hurts -- which is why Don Imus's return to the airwaves just couldn't have come at a better time.
I mean, despite it having been a legitimately contentious issue, the Jena Six thing worked out really well for you personally: It was just like the 60s what with that big march and all -- with you and Jesse getting to join together to create one big cacophonous wall of righteous indignation. But Imus, well that was your magnum opus -- a masterpiece of misdirection. During that whole sickening malignancy on the logic-and-reason center of the collective American brain you really made your presence known. You were the man of the hour, on every talk show and every panel of discussion, raising all kinds of hell and organizing all sorts of unnecessary marches and protests. You were almost single-handedly responsible for the downfall of a broadcasting icon -- an admittedly irrelevent icon, as easy a target as there ever was, but an icon nonetheless.
How it must've irritated you that Imus managed to somehow pull himself out of the hole you blithely dug for him.
Except that it didn't bother you at all, and you and I both know it.
The second coming of Imus presented you with the perfect Christmas gift: a brand new chance to dredge up all kinds of absurd acrimony over an old man's stupid, offhand comment -- a comment that was so laughably feeble from the outset that it still seems incomprehensible for it to have at one point occupied so much of America's attention.
So, last night, you once again got the fix of that precious spotlight -- the one you've been so desperately craving.
You turned up on Larry King Live, as well as a few other "news" shows. You were again welcomed with open arms and your opinions and supposed conventional wisdom were again treated with respect -- as if they held some sort of significance and weren't, in fact, little more than self-obsessed blather.
You were holding court, and it was good.
But here's the thing -- the big secret that someone with an ego as monumental as yours is probably unwilling or unable to admit to himself: The people who invited you on that show couldn't care less what you think. What you have to say doesn't matter half as much as how you say it. You're an instigator, and that's all that the brain trusts behind Larry King and Hardball and O'Reilly and the rest of their ilk are looking for.
They want someone who makes for good TV.
They want a clown to entertain their audiences and keep them watching.
And you're it.
You never disappoint. You give them exactly what they're looking for, every single time.
While you sit in a studio howling and whining and haranguing and moralizing, trying as best you can to speak as loudly as you can into the microphone, a television producer turns giddy cartwheels in a control room, knowing that America probably won't be able to turn away.
But what's the harm really?
Everyone's getting what they want, right? You're playing them -- getting all that priceless face-time and maintaining your wholly undeserved place as an authority figure; they're playing you -- using your surefire buffoonery to create the kinds of contrived controversies that translate into one giant ratings bonanza again and again.
In the end, who loses?
We do of course.