MSNBC’s Sharpton Defends Tawana Brawley Rape Accusation Hoax on PBS

News & Politics

Appearing as a guest on the latest episode of PBS’s reboot of Firing Line, MSNBC host Al Sharpton let it be known that he has not backed down from his infamous claims from 1987 that a teenage black girl was raped by several NYPD cops, which was ultimately found to be a hoax by a grand jury.

As the two discussed the documentary Loudmouth, which was produced about the liberal race provocateur, host Margaret Hoover recalled the case and then posed:

You served as an advisor to her family, and, throughout the grand jury investigation — which ultimately found her story to be a hoax — in the recent film, you say to the camera that your position in the case has been distorted. How so?

The liberal activist complained because the discredited case was not prosecuted in court:

My position was that there was this allegation from this young lady that was really questionable behavior by some that she accused. She deserved to have her day in court — let us bring the case to court. And this prosecutor would not do that.

He soon admitted that he has not changed his mind about the rape accusations that were rejected by a grand jury:

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HOOVER: Thirty-five years later, how do you understand what happened to Tawana Brawley?

SHARPTON: I don’t have any different understanding because a grand jury is not a trial.

He then complained that the prosecutor put him on trial instead:

And there’s a famous saying by a judge in New York: You can indict a ham sandwich if you want to. That same prosecutor charged me with taking money from my youth group, and we beat him in court. So why would I believe him with what he did with the grand jury when I saw what he did to me?

The two then went back forth:

HOOVER: You mean nothing has changed in 35 years?

SHARPTON: Absolutely not.

HOOVER: Do you think that you were misled in the case of Tawana Brawley?

SHARPTON: I have no evidence that I was misled.

HOOVER: But do you think she told you the truth?

SHARPTON: Her lawyers is who I talked to, I’ve never asked a 15-year-old girl all the details that you said, I have no reason to feel she misled the lawyers.

After Sharpton recalled that he had believed Brawley’s lawyer but had never spoken about the details directly with the 15-year-old, Hoover asked her liberal guest about his reluctance to making apologies.

Hoover didn’t get around to asking about Sharpton’s history of anti-Semitic rhetoric that happened around right before a deadly arson attack occurred against a Jewish-owned business.

This episode of Firing Line was funded in part by the Fairweather Foundation and the Asness Family Foundation.

Transcript follows:

PBS’s Firing Line

January 15, 2023

MARGARET HOOVER: Of all the cases that you’ve been front and center in, there’s one that you write, in your own words, that you’re “indelibly” linked to. Of course, you know that case is the case of Tawana Brawley. Of course, she was a, at the time, a 15-year-old girl who alleged that she was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by six white men, including by law enforcement officers.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON (from 1987): We are not going to let this girl be the scapegoat of a corrupt system!

HOOVER: You served as an advisor to her family, and, throughout the grand jury investigation — which ultimately found her story to be a hoax — in the recent film, you say to the camera that your position in the case has been distorted. How so?

SHARPTON: My position was that there was this allegation from this young lady that was really questionable behavior by some that she accused. She deserved to have her day in court — let us bring the case to court. And this prosecutor would not do that.

HOOVER: Thirty-five years later, how do you understand what happened to Tawana Brawley?

SHARPTON: I don’t have any different understanding because a grand jury is not a trial. And there’s a famous saying by a judge in New York: You can indict a ham sandwich if you want to. That same prosecutor charged me with taking money from my youth group, and we beat him in court. So why would I believe him with what he did with the grand jury when I saw what he did to me?

HOOVER: You mean nothing has changed in 35 years?

SHARPTON: Absolutely not.

HOOVER: Do you think that you were misled in the case of Tawana Brawley?

SHARPTON: I have no evidence that I was misled.

HOOVER: But do you think she told you the truth?

SHARPTON: Her lawyers is who I talked to, I’ve never asked a 15-year-old girl all the details that you said, I have no reason to feel she misled the lawyers.

HOOVER: If you believe nothing has changed 35 years after Tawana Brawley, why wouldn’t you be agitating for justice?

SHARPTON: I would — I believe that it never went to court, and therefore we do not know what evidence was presented that backed up what he presented to a grand jury?

HOOVER: But the justice process determined that her accusations were a lie.

SHARPTON: That is not the justice — the justice system has a grand jury that says that they either believe or disbelieve what the prosecutor presents.

HOOVER: There’s a sense that — well, this case, in your words, is “indelibly” linked to you, that the best posture for you, and that you’ve decided, is just for you not to apologize. You said: “Once you begin bending, it’s, ‘Did you bend today?’ or, ‘I missed the apology, say it again.’ Once you start compromising, you lose respect for yourself.” That’s a quote from you. Tell me more about that.

SHARPTON: Well, I think you have to characterize what I was saying in the right context. First, what am I apologizing for? Believing two lawyers that had just helped to win the case in Howard Beach? So I should apologize? I shouldn’t believe them? Should I apologize for believing the Central Park Five, who was exonerated? So what — tell me what an apology would sound like.

HOOVER: Thirty-five years later, nothing has changed for you?

SHARPTON: I think I’ve answered that.

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