New CNN Anchor Hails Jesse Jackson As 'Huge' Leader, 'Great One' Like Sen. Obama

On the heels of reporter Suzanne Malveaux saying "we hope" John Kerry’s gaffe goes away, another CNN employee is letting the personal political opinions fly. New CNN afternoon anchorman Don Lemon interviewed Rev. Jesse Jackson Wednesday on the occasion of his 65th birthday, and after noting Jackson’s adultery and asking pointed questions about whether he’s still relevant, Lemon lauded him as a major historical figure: "But for the most part he is an appreciated person in society, in America, and someone who most African-Americans, at least speaking for myself, think that he has made huge contributions, especially when it comes to civil rights." A few hours later, while informally gathering interviewing Jackson’s daughter Santita and Sen. Barack Obama’s wife Michelle for a chat, Lemon cooed: "Let me get you guys right here. Daughter of the great one who's turning 65. Wife of the great one now."

If Lemon betrayed an obvious familiarity with these people in Chicago, it may be because Lemon joined CNN in September after a few years as an anchor in Chicago for NBC affiliate WMAQ. (He had a national stint with NBC in New York before that.) Lemon’s interview with Jackson in the 11 AM hour must have sounded a little bit harsh to Jackson:

Lemon: "How Soon We Forget could be the theme of Jesse Jackson's last decade or so. After all, it was him marching or sitting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in all those civil rights photographs. But lately he's been called everything from an opportunist to a philanderer to an agitator."

Lemon (on camera): "So when people say, Jesse Jackson plays the race card too much, your answer to them is?"

Rev. Jesse Jackson: "Well, that it is not true. It is true that blacks have high infant mortality rates and shorter life expectancy. That's because of structures, conditions that must change."

Lemon: "When people say, Jesse Jackson inserts himself into every big news story, that he's enamored with the media and publicity, you say?"

Jackson: "The media is the outlet for ideas. No African-American leader or journalist has a primetime show to get ideas out. And so if I go to Syria or Iraq or Cuba or Yugoslavia to bring Americans back home, I didn't chase the ambulance, the ambulance chased me."

Lemon: "People would say, well, what is his job? Does Jesse Jackson have a job? Has he gotten a job yet? And your answer is?"

Jackson: "It's an attempt to demean our Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. It is a human rights organization. People who speak that way are speaking in pejorative, demeaning terms. You have to dismiss it. Consider the source."

Lemon interjected: "Jesse Jackson is a reverend, yet he had an affair. He's got a kid."

Jackson replied: "We all stand and fall for the glory of God. But if we are honest and open, God will forgive and redeem and allow us to move on and get back up again."

Lemon in voice-over: "Even one of the largest black-owned publications, Ebony Magazine" recently asked the question, does the Reverend Jesse Jackson still matter?"

Lemon (on camera): "Does Jesse Jackson still matter?"

Jackson: "They didn't say that. They asked that."

Lemon: "That's a question."

Jackson: "And the people answered."

Lemon: "Answered, and many came to his defense."

Camille Cosby, wife of Bill Cosby: "Of course he still matters. He has always mattered. You cannot eradicate all the wonderful work that he has done throughout his career."

Michelle Obama, wife of Sen. Barack Obama (D): "That's obvious. I mean, he is teaching us in everything he does and says. He still takes the kind of risks to say things that a lot of us can't. He's in a position to use his leverage and he does it every single time. I mean, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for Jesse Jackson. That's just a no-brainer."

Unidentified female: "That's true."

Lemon: "Even Michelle Obama's husband, Barack Obama agrees."

Sen. Barack Obama (D) Illinois: "Reverend Jackson continues to be one of the most powerful voices on behalf of the disaffected, the dispossessed. Wherever he goes, he makes news."

Later, co-anchor Heidi Collins asked Lemon: "How does he resonate with African-Americans across all demographics? I mean, if you had to sort of make a guess on, you know, for or against, they understand his thoughts today?"

Lemon answered: "That's a very good question, Heidi. It's a mixed bag. Mostly because of his history, because he is who he is and most African-Americans have suffered some form of racism at least once, a lot more in their lives, but at least once. So they do resonate with him and they do think that he has a message and a place. But not everybody's going to agree with you just because you're African- American doesn't mean you agree with everything that Jesse Jackson says or does. But for the most part he is an appreciated person in society, in America, and someone who most African-Americans, at least speaking for myself, think that he has made huge contributions, especially when it comes to civil rights."

In the 2 PM hour (Eastern), Lemon interviewed Michelle Obama, wife of Sen. Barack Obama, about Jesse Jackson:

Lemon: "What do you think of this guy? 65?"

Obama: "I love this man. I grew up in this man's house. I've seen it all."

Lemon: "What do you think of the comparisons to him and your husband?"

Obama: "You know, it's an honor. I mean to be compared -- he's done it, right?"

Lemon: "Right."

Obama: "We're just sort of learning."

Lemon: "Yes, any advice you think you'll ask him if he decides to run [for president] from this guy because he's done it."

Obama: "Well, we talk to him as much as we can, so a lot of it is just looking and listening and watching and making sure we're thinking and doing the right thing. But yes, we will be consulting with him and all the leaders in the community."

Lemon: "Are you ready to be First Lady?"

Obama: "No comment."

Lemon: "Where's Hubby tonight?"

Obama: "He's coming. He is flying in. His flight doesn't come in until late. My date is Santita Jackson."

Lemon: "Santita, get over here."

Obama: "Get over here."

Lemon: "Santita Jackson and Michelle Obama. Let me get you guys right here. Daughter of the great one who's turning 65. Wife of the great one now."

After this interview, anchor Kyra Phillips suggested: "Okay, she's sounding like a First Lady. She says no comment, but .."

Lemon pulled the praise out again: "Yes, well, the thing is, you don't hear a lot from her. She's a very smart woman, graduated from Princeton, sociology degree with honors and then went on to Harvard, got a law degree. So she is the woman behind the man. She's very smart. Very nice lady. And since we were there, we talked about it."

Phillips sounded a feminist note: "Maybe she should run for president. Barack Obama could be supporting her."

Lemon: "I don't know. But she's a very nice lady."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis