Jesse Jackson to CNN's Soledad O'Brien: 'You Don't Count' as Black

CNN personality Soledad O'Brien revealed in her new book that liberal activist Jesse Jackson put her down for her skin color during a private meeting in 2007. During the meeting, Jackson complained to O'Brien, whose mother is a black woman from Cuba, that there weren't any black anchors on CNN. When she pointed out that she was the anchor of American Morning, the activist replied, "You don't count."

O'Brien, who is now a special correspondent for CNN, recounted the 2007 incident in "The Next Big Story," which CNN.com excerpted on November 3. Just before her meeting with Jackson, the journalist had obtained "exclusive access to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s papers," as the lead-in for the excerpt underlined. Soon after this, as O'Brien recalled, "Jackson calls with an invitation to meet and talk." The two met at a restaurant "on the first floor of a famous hotel" and in the course of their conversation, the subject of the racial makeup of her network came up:

Today he is angry because CNN doesn't have enough black anchors. It is political season. There are billboards up sporting Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper. He asks after the black reporters. Why are they not up there? I share his concern and make a mental note to take it back to my bosses. But then he begins to rage that there are no black anchors on the network at all. Does he mean covering the campaign, I wonder to myself? The man has been a guest on my show. He knows me, even if he doesn't recall how we met. I brought him on at MSNBC, then again at Weekend Today. I interrupt to remind him I'm the anchor of American Morning. He knows that. He looks me in the eye and reaches his fingers over to tap a spot of skin on my right had. He shakes his head. "You don't count," he says. I wasn't sure what that meant. I don't count- what? I'm not black? I'm not black enough? Or my show doesn't count?

The CNN personality continued by describing how affected she was by the remark:

Soledad O'Brien, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgI was both angry and embarrassed, which rarely happens at the same time for me. Jesse Jackson managed to make me ashamed of my skin color which even white people had never been able to do....If Reverend Jesse Jackson didn't think I was black enough, then what was I? My parents had so banged racial identity into my head that the thoughts of racial doubt never crossed my mind. I'd suffered an Afro through the heat of elementary school. I'd certainly never felt white. I thought my version of black was as valid as anybody else's. I was a product of my parents (black woman, white man) my town (mostly white), multiracial to be sure, but not black? I felt like the foundation I'd built my life on was being denied, as if someone was telling me my parents aren't my parents....The arbiter of blackness had weighed in. I had been measured and found wanting.

O'Brien might have been angry as well because early in 2007, the same year she had this racially-charged meeting with Jackson, she had defended him and his counterpart, the Reverend Al Sharpton, on-air during a February 19 segment on American Morning:

O'BRIEN: There will be people who might think watching TV that you and Jesse Jackson are the only black leaders in this country practically. Every time there is an event, a shooting, something to be said, something to respond to the black community, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are there in front of the microphones....But do Reverend Sharpton and Reverend Jackson speak for all African-Americans? One lawmaker (Rep. Maxine Waters) says if it seems that way, blame the media.

Jackson actually later admitted to O'Brien that he didn't know that she was black, as she also revealed in her book:

It wasn't until recently that I called him and reminded him of what he'd said to me that day. I had done 4 documentaries on race in between the two conversations. He was totally surprised and barely remembered the details. He had not known I was black! He said he honestly did not know, that when he said I didn't count he was alluding to the fact that he thought I was a dark-skinned someone else. That is how precise the game of race is played in our country, that we are so easily reduced to our skin tone. That even someone as prominent in African American society as Rev. Jackson has a box to check for black and one for white. No one gets to be in between. I thanked him for his candor.


The CNN personality went on touting the liberal view on race issues on-air, even after Jackson's put-down. On April 28, 2008, O'Brien praised Jeremiah Wright's speech before the Detroit NAACP as a "home run" and "really funny," despite the minister's eyebrow-raising assertion that black and white children learn with different parts of their brains. Three days before President Obama's inauguration in January 2009, the former American Morning anchor suggested, as anchor Wolf Blitzer recounted, that "metaphorically in some ways, the pilot of that airplane [Sully Sullenberger, who safely landed his crippled airliner in the Hudson River] is very much like Barack Obama." Just over a month later, on February 18, O'Brien joined Roland Martin and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger in unanimously praising Attorney General Eric Holder for his "nation of cowards" speech on race issues.

[H/t: National Review Online]

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center