A few days after 18-year-old Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, White House officials enlisted an unusual source for on-the-ground intelligence amid the chaos and tear gas: the Rev. Al Sharpton, a fiery activist who became a household name by provoking rather than pacifying. In Ferguson, Sharpton established himself as a de facto contact and conduit for a jittery White House seeking to negotiate a middle ground between meddling and disengagement. “There’s a trust factor with The Rev from the Oval Office on down,” a White House official familiar with their dealings told me. After huddling with Brown’s family and local community leaders, Sharpton connected directly with White House adviser and First Friend Valerie Jarrett, vacationing in her condo in the exclusive Oak Bluffs section of Martha’s Vineyard, not far from where President Obama and his family were staying. Obama was “horrified” by the images he was seeing on TV, Jarrett told Sharpton, and proceeded to pepper him with questions as she collected information for the president: How bad was the violence? Was it being fueled by outside groups—and could Sharpton do anything to talk them down? What did the Brown family want the White House to do?
As we reported recently, Sharpton has been in the middle of two high profile cases recently: the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson and the case of Eric Garner, who was put in a chokehold by NYPD police and later died. “Rev. Al Sharpton is both President of the National Action Network and host on MSNBC,” MSNBC president Phil Griffin told us. “We’ve always been transparent about the dual roles and his work outside of MSNBC.”