Labeling Contrast: Beck a 'Controversial Conservative,' Al Sharpton Just an 'Activist'

Just like NBC and ABC this morning, CBS's The Early Show had a hostile take on Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally scheduled for Saturday on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Correspondent Whit Johnson labeled Beck a "controversial conservative," event speaker Alveda King (a niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.) a "longtime advocate for conservative causes," and suggested that the fact that some attendees "will get there on Tea Party-sponsored buses" contradicted the idea that this would be a non-political event.

Yet talking about liberal rabble rouser and onetime Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton, Johnson offered no ideological labels or even a tag that Sharpton might be "controversial." Instead, Sharpton's event was described as a rally "hosted by civil rights leaders," and showcased his slam: "The things that Beck stands for are antithetical to the civil rights movement."

For good measure, Johnson brought in a second Beck critic, Daily Beast writer and frequent CNN talking head John Avlon. "Where Martin Luther King was a uniter," Avlon slammed, "Glenn Beck is a professional divider."

CBS's labeling double-standard made it a clean sweep for the broadcast networks. In their Friday morning show coverage, as documented by NewsBusters' Geoff Dickens and Scott Whitlock, NBC and ABC also refrained from labeling Sharpton as a liberal (NBC called him an "activist," while ABC offered no description), while both assigned the "conservative" label to Beck (ABC: "conservative talk show host;" NBC: "conservative host").

Here's how The Early Show covered the topic during their 8am ET news segment:

NEWS ANCHOR JEFF GLOR: TV and radio host Glenn Beck is hosting a rally in Washington tomorrow, and it's taking place on the same day as the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson is in Washington this morning with the latest on that. Whit, good morning.

WHIT JOHNSON: Jeff, good morning. Well, one rally will be hosted by civil rights leaders, one by controversial conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. But Beck insists the scheduling of his event - on the very same day - is nothing more than a coincidence.

CLIP OF GLENN BECK: This is a historic event-

JOHNSON: Glenn Beck's "Restore Honor" rally Saturday will take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place where 250,000 people watched Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963.

CLIP OF MLK: And I have a dream today

JOHNSON: The Fox News personality's event will be a highly-publicized tribute to America's troops. Sarah Palin will be one of the keynote speakers, along with MLK's niece, Dr. Alveda King, a longtime advocate for conservative causes.

DR. ALVEDA KING: We need unity. We have to rebuild America, and we're gonna have to have unity to do it.

JOHN AVLON, THE DAILY BEAST: He uses the classic tools in the talk radio arsenal: conflict, tension, fear and resentment. Where Martin Luther King was a uniter at the end of the day, Glenn Beck is a professional divider.JOHNSON: Beck maintains his rally is non-political, but many of the thousands expected to be in attendance will get there on Tea Party-sponsored buses. And the event's timing has touched a nerve: The Rev. Al Sharpton, who will lead a separate march the same day, criticized Beck, saying [words on screen] "the things that Beck stands for are antithetical to the civil rights movement."

JOHNSON: Beck's rally is expected to be much larger than Sharpton's - he says maybe tens of thousands of people. It's possible both events and counterdemonstrations could cross paths tomorrow on the National Mall. Jeff.

GLOR: Alright, Whit Johnson in Washington. Whit, thank you very much.

- Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.