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Should Al Sharpton be Trayvon Martin activist and MSNBC host?

Al Sharpton is a leading civil rights activist in the Trayvon Martin case. He also hosts a daily politics show on MSNBC. Is there a conflict between Sharpton's activism and his journalism?

By David BauderAssociated Press / March 27, 2012

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at the Sanford City Commission meeting after attending the Rally for Trayvon Martin, Monday, March 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla.

(AP Photo/Julie Fletcher)

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New York

Al Sharpton's activism on the Trayvon Martin case has given him a unique role — some would say unique conflict — on MSNBC. The news network host is in the middle of a story he's been featuring every evening on the air.

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Half of Sharpton's "Politics Daily" program on MSNBC Monday was about the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin, an unarmed black teenager in Sanford, Fla., leading with an interview with Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. Sharpton's only reference to his own involvement in the case was a remark that "we did the press conference" earlier in the day.

The veteran civil rights activist has spoken at rallies in support of Martin. Monday before the Sanford city commission, Sharpton testified that Martin's parents had endured "insults and lies" over reports that their son attacked George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot him.

IN PICTURES: Trayvon Martin protests

Sharpton's dual role would have been unthinkable on television 20 years ago and still wouldn't be allowed at many news organizations. While opinionated cable news hosts have become commonplace over the past decade, Sharpton goes beyond talking.

"It certainly represents a change in our traditional view of the boundaries between journalism and activism," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. "Al Sharpton is clearly an activist."

Sharpton, a Baptist minister, runs the Harlem-based National Action Network, a civil rights organization. He's been a frequent presence as an advocate in racially-charged cases dating back to Tawana Brawley's accusations of an assault that turned out to be a hoax in the late 1980s.

He joined MSNBC's roster of hosts last summer after extensive discussions about how his activist role would continue while on the air.

MSNBC chief executive Phil Griffin said his chief requirement was that Sharpton discuss his activism with network bosses so they could decide, on a case-by-case basis, how it would affect "Politics Daily," which begins at 6 p.m. ET.

"We didn't hire Al to become a neutered kind of news presenter," Griffin said. "That's not what we do."

Griffin, talking before Monday's show, said he hadn't seen any conflict with Sharpton's role on and off the air in the Martin case. He said Sharpton had fulfilled his requirement to honest and upfront about his activities, and credited "Politics Daily" with helping to make it a national story.

Eric Deggans, a media critic for the Tampa Bay Times who has discussed Sharpton's role on CNN's "Reliable Sources" and elsewhere, recalled being treated like he was "nitpicking" last August when he first raised questions that Sharpton's activism could present conflicts for MSNBC.

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