CNN's 'Objective' Don Lemon Uses Joy Behar to Smear Rick Santorum

Openly-gay CNN anchor Don Lemon dug back to a May 16 interview with liberal Joy Behar to smear GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum just before Monday night's Republican primary debate. Behar then said of the socially-conservative Santorum that he "seems like a big homophobe," and Lemon made sure Friday to reference that smear and put Santorum on the defensive.

As NewsBusters reported Friday, Lemon badgered Santorum in an airport over his positions on gay marriage. The CNN segment featured an abbreviated portion of the interview, and Lemon aired the extended version Sunday evening on the 7 p.m. EDT hour of Newsroom.

Lemon labeled Santorum as "very decisive and very divisive on social issues" to introduce the interview. Then he tried to frame Santorum's support for amending the Constitution to protect traditional marriage as contradictory to his small-government conservatism.

After that he brought out the smear. "I was recently on Joy Behar and she said that, she called you I think it was – I'm paraphrasing – bigoted or homophobic or what have you," Lemon said to Santorum. Apparently, what Joy Behar says represents the highest in opinion journalism.

In the May 16 interview with Behar, Lemon claimed he could still be objective in covering the gay rights debate. "I don't think just because I'm gay that it makes, it takes my brain away...or it makes me not be objective," he told Behar. However, Lemon has a history of pro-gay bias, as NewsBusters has documented.

After the Santorum interview, when Lemon was hosting a Sunday panel to discuss the interview, he hit Santorum from another angle. He declared that "many people find" that Santorum "has said some pretty disturbing things about gay people" and has "ostracized them and moved them into a corner."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on June 12 at 7:24 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

DON LEMON: And we are back. Coming to you live from New Hampshire on the campus of St. Anselm College where CNN is getting ready for tomorrow night's GOP presidential debate. Hold on. All right. That's better.

CNN released a fascinating poll ahead of the debate. We asked whether the government should be promoting traditional values. Now here's the response: 46 percent said yes but 50 percent said no. Why is that important? Because it's the first time the percentage in the "yes" column has fallen below 50 percent since CNN first started asking the question in 1993. That number should be very interesting to candidates like Rick Santorum, someone who is very decisive and very divisive on social issues. Here is what he had to say when I caught up with them. I want you to take a listen.

(Video Clip)

RICK SANTORUM, GOP presidential candidate: You know go to my announcement speech, I didn't talk about social issues. I talked about the impact of Obama care on jobs and the economy. I talked about the huge debt that we have and the obligation it deal with that. I talked about entitlement reform. I talked about the Ryan plan. You know, in all due respect, I think the media is fixated on trying to – this is how the media works, they try to pigeon-hole candidates. They're this kind of here – they fit this niche. They fit that niche.

Well the interesting thing I think in my candidacy is that I fit all of the niches. I am someone who's strong on social issues but I'm strong on national security issues. There's nobody who has the experience or the levels of accomplishment that I have on national security; no one has – and  the federal entitlement. I did. I was the author of welfare reform. So we've got a lot to talk about and we will.

LEMON: Some people say it's contradiction, because you are for small, government, right? For smaller government, but yet you want to change the Constitution when it comes to same-sex marriage. And that – some people see that as government intervening on people's lives.

SANTORUM: That's affirming what laws of the states have been for over 200 years. It is simply, putting in law what has been in place in society for thousands of years. That this is what marriage is. There is an intrinsic value that having men and women come together in marriage and having children and raising those children in a stable family, that's good for society. That's something society wants to encourage. And there are some, who I understand have a different view of that, don't think it is important, think that society will be just fine if that institution is no longer held to be different or privileged and rewarded. I just disagree with that. And, you know, I think the appropriate thing is to get in the public square and let's debate it. Let's argue it and let's point out the pluses and minuses and I'm doing that.

LEMON: I was recently on Joy Behar and she said that, she called I think it was – I'm paraphrasing – bigoted or homophobic or what have you.

SANTORUM: I have a difference of agreement on a public policy issue. That doesn't mean, you know, I hate anybody. I don't hate anybody. I'm called by my faith to love everybody. I do. I pray for people whether they are for me or against me because that's what I'm supposed to do. And just because I disagree with a, you know, a legal definition of what marriage is doesn't mean I dislike anybody or hate anybody or am spiteful of anybody. Because I think that's what is best for society and we should be able to disagree without calling people bigots. I think that's really sad that you have people on the other side, because you stand up for something that has been in the institution in this world for 2,000 years that all of a sudden now, you're a hater. You're a mean person. I'm not. I've never been.

LEMON: Do you have any gay friends?

SANTORUM: Yes. In fact, I've had gay people work for me.

LEMON: Yes. And friends?

SANTORUM: Yes.

LEMON: You know when people say I have black friends.

SANTORUM: Yeah, in fact – well, yes. In fact I was with a gay friend of mine just two days guy. So yes, I do. They respect that I have differences of opinion on that. I talk about these things in front of them and we have conversations about it. They differ from me. But they know that I love them because they're my friend and they know that I respect – and we have respectful differences.

LEMON: You know that's a headline. Rick Santorum has gay friends.

SANTORUM: It shouldn't be. It was well known that Rick Santorum had a leading – a gay Republican working for him for ten years. I don't know what – I don't know what the – you know, what the shock value is here. I mean the fact of the matter is, when for example, when there was a man who was working as the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who was outed by one of the gay papers, the first person who came to his aid was me, because he was doing a great job. So I understand the narrative. It's always easy to sort of paint a narrative. Oh, this is guy is for standing up for traditional marriage. He must hate gay people. No, I don't. I just disagree with what the issue of marriage should be.

(End Video Clip)

LEMON: All right. I want to talk more about this poll. Because it really is a good indicator of where voters' heads are as we look forward to 2012. Let's show it again. We asked whether the government should be promoting traditional values. Here's the response: 46 percent said yes but 50 percent said no. So I want to bring in Will Cain, he's a CNN contributor and the host of "Off the Page on NationalReview.com and then Heather McGhee is Washington director for Demos, a public policy research and advocacy group in Washington. So let me pose this question to both of you. We just heard from Rick Santorum at length. So does this poll, that we just showed, does it help people like him or hurt him? I'll go with you first, Will.

WILL CAIN, CNN contributor: I don't know, Don, because you know what? Because if I had been responding in that poll, if I had been called, I don't know how I would have answered. I'm a pro-life, pro-gay marriage supporter. How does someone like me answer that poll? And by the way, Don, I don't think I'm unique. In May a Gallup poll showed for the first time Americans, the majority of Americans, support gay marriage. At the same time, polls show young people increasingly call themselves pro-life.

So how does that play for Rick Santorum? I don't know. I'll tell you this. Democrats will be doing everything they can to make this election about social issues. The one thing they don't want to talk about is the economy. What does that mean for Rick Santorum? Depends on how much he emphasizes these things.

LEMON: Ok. All right. Heather, I'll pose that to you, and you do have to say that many people find, think that Rick Santorum has said some pretty disturbing things about gay people and that he has sort of – he has not sort of, he's ostracized them and moved them into a corner. And it will be odd for people to hear that Rick Santorum has gay people, and in that interview to kind of set himself up as a supporter of gay people. So how does this play for people like him?

HEATHER MCGHEE, Washington director, Demos: Yes, I think that the other big poll result that we have to recognize here that's playing out is that for the first time in America, in polling history, the majority of Americans are actually worried that their children are not going to do better than them. That's the sort of failure of the American dream in this country. So the fact that you know, most young people are making less than their parents did a generation ago, that's not because of the advent of gay rights. That's not because of the progress on the women's right to choose.

And so Rick Santorum is going to have to have a really honest conversation with people about what's keeping them up at night. And at this point in time with this economy, it's not the social issues. It's really how they are going to put food on the table and get their next paycheck.

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Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014