Thursday’s "Newsroom" program on CNN, in a report promoted to be about how "controversial comments are nothing new to Jesse Jackson," was actually a retrospective from two years ago that largely glowed about Jackson’s affiliation with Martin Luther King, Jr., and giving the man a platform to answer his critics. "Newsroom" co-anchor Don Lemon, who interviewed Jackson in the report, remarked of his career, "‘How far soon we forget’ could be 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." Lemon did mention the leader’s extramarital affair in which he sired a child, but omitted the former Democratic presidential candidate’s bigoted "Hymietown" comments from 1984.
Prior to the report’s rebroadcast, which took place just after the bottom of the 3 pm Eastern hour of the "Newsroom," co-anchor Kyra Phillips, gave a promo for the report: "Straight ahead: Controversial comments are nothing new to Jesse Jackson." File footage of Jackson, probably from one of the Democratic convention he addressed in the 1980s, accompanied the promo. Lemon’s report began several minutes later. It began with a glowing look at Jackson’s early activism in the 1960s: "Whatever you think of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, there's no denying he's been there.... In the company of kings." Jackson, via file footage, named the "kings" Lemon referenced -- Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Lemon also reminded viewers how Jackson was "[e]ven on the balcony when America's most famous ‘King’ was assassinated."
The CNN correspondent then referenced Jackson’s 65th birthday, which took place in October 2006, indicating that this report was nearly two years old (Lemon admitted this at the end of his report). He also included excerpts from an interview he had with Jackson. Prior to this, Lemon gave another reminder of Jackson’s connection to MLK, and a list of charges from his critics. During the interview, he let Jackson answer some of these charges without any follow-ups.
LEMON: ‘How far soon we forget’ could be 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?
JACKSON: Well, it is not true. It is true that blacks have higher infant mortality rates and a shorter life expectancy. That's because of structural 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 prime-time show to get our ideas out. And so, if I go to Syria or Iraq or Cuba or Yugoslavia to bring Americans back home, I didn't have chase the ambulance. The ambulance chased me.
LEMON: People would say, well, what is -- what is his job? Does Jesse Jackson have a job? Has he gotten a job yet? And then your answer is?
JACKSON: It's an attempt to demean our work. The Rainbow/Push Coalition is a -- is a human rights organization. People who speak that way are speaking in pejorative, demeaning terms. You have to dismiss it and consider the source.
LEMON: Jesse Jackson is a reverend, yet he had an affair and he's got a kid.
JACKSON: We have all sinned and falled short of 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 (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: You see that they asked that question.
LEMON: Absolutely. That's the question.
JACKSON: And the people answered.
Lemon then aired celebrity endorsements of Jackson, ranging from Bill Cosby’s wife to the Obamas. He closed with another glowing look back, this time about Jackson’s two failed presidential runs and his supposed legacy.
LEMON (voice-over): Answered -- and many came to his defense.
CAMILLE COSBY, BILL COSBY'S WIFE: 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: That's obvious. I mean, he is teaching us in everything he does and says. He can take -- still take 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.
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Reverend Jackson continues to be one of the most powerful voices on behalf of the disaffected, the dispossessed. You know, wherever he goes, he makes news.
LEMON: Before there was a Barack, addressing a Democratic convention and hinting at a presidential run, there was a Jesse. Run, Jesse, run -- remember, 1984 and then again in '88?
JACKSON: You hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. America will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive.... Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Let me hear you scream. (crowd screams and applauds)
LEMON: Times have certainly changed since Jesse Jackson first uttered those famous words. His children are grown and accomplished. Jesse, Jr. is a U.S. Congressman.
JACKSON: I am delighted to have lived long enough to see now two generations direct beneficiaries of our work continue to grow. So when I look at these fruits of our struggle, the beneficiaries of our work, it's a good feeling.
LEMON: No regrets, he insists, but admits he's a bit battered, but not broken, by his journey and today, still dogged about his message of hope.
LEMON (on-camera): That was two years ago -- two years ago, for his 65th birthday in Chicago, we did that story -- just to add a little context....
Not once did Lemon bring up how Jackson, in a 1984 interview with Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman, referred to the Jews as "Hymies" and called New York City "Hymietown."