Don Lemon tossed softballs at leftist writer Tim Wise on Sunday's
Newsroom, mostly reading back excerpts from his latest column, which the
anchor labeled a "withering rebuke of...the 'white right.'" Lemon even twice emphasized how Wise has apparently received death threats over the column, where he slammed "conservative old white people [who] have pretty much always been the bad guys."
The CNN anchor interviewed Wise for nearly eight minutes during a
segment 10 minutes into the 7 pm Eastern hour. Lemon began with
"withering rebuke" label and continued that the author "begins with a
disclaimer that he is not referring to all white people, and that his
essay is not anti-white. He says it is addressed to- quote, 'The white
community that is right-wing.'" He then turned to his guest and seemed
to compliment him before asking his first question: "I was actually- I
have to be honest- a little bit stunned when I read this because your
language is unusually rough and raw. We know that you tell it like it is. You called the election results a temper tantrum and you sound mad as hell....do you regret using any of this fiery rhetoric?"
WISE: Well, no not really because I think- look, the right wing in this country, which is disproportionately- if you look at the exit polls- being fed by older white folks, has more or less declared war on the last 100 years of liberal and progressive progress. I mean, Glenn Beck calls himself a 'progressive hunter' and says the
main goal for Republicans should be to undo the legacy of
progressivism, which is like the last century of human progress: civil
rights laws, environmental laws, labor laws. So I think when
you have a group that have declared war on that legacy, which is by and
large a very positive one for this country and the world, the rest of us
have to fight back, and sometimes, the rhetoric does have to be raw. We
can't always be friends and cooperate.
Lemon continued with his first mention of the apparent death threats
and kept up the softballs, while his guest continued to unleash on
LEMON: Tim, do you regret- you've gotten death threats because of this, haven't you?
WISE: Sure- yeah, sure.
WISE: I mean, (laughs) I don't like that, but you know- but the reality
is the death threats are coming from people who very clearly don't have
the capacity for reading comprehension. They are the ones who seem to
think that, in this piece, I'm blasting all white folks or calling for
the death of white people. My goodness, I'm white, my wife is white, my
kids are white, my entire family is white. It doesn't make any sense
that I would do that kind of thing. What I'm saying is, there are a lot
of us white folks who reject the right, and in about 40 years, when half
of the country are people of color, who definitely lean progressive-
even if they're only 25 or 30 percent of us in the white community who
are progressive, that is going to be a political majority-
LEMON: Okay, so Tim-
WISE: And my point in this letter was they need to enjoy their
victories while they can because they're not going to last forever.
LEMON: So it's not sour grapes and it's not satirical.
WISE: Oh no. Oh, it's not satirical and it's not sour grapes, primarily
because- look, I'm not a shield for the Democratic Party. I've been
very critical of the Obama administration, as you know. I'm very
critical of Democrats. What I'm saying is that the right wing's
time is limited unless they can figure out- and I don't think they have
figured out how to appeal to people of color and young folks when your
rhetoric is, 'We want to take the country back.' Black and brown folks
don't want to go back for obvious reasons, by and large, and young
people want to go forward. So I think it's a limited political
the second half of the interview, Lemon merely read back several
excerpts of Wise's anti-conservative column, with the leftist expanding
on his thoughts:
LEMON: The reason I asked you about the satire part, is because you
usually blast people for language like that and you- you've blasted
people before. And here's- let's read some of it.
LEMON: You said, 'I know, you think you've taken your country
back with this election- and of course, you have always thought it was
yours for the taking, 'cause that's what we white folks are bred to
believe, that it's ours, and how dare anyone else say otherwise- but you
are wrong'- Tim!
WISE: Yeah, well, that is what- now, look, I've been white a long time and I've
got to tell you that white folks in this country have long been led to
believe that this is our country, that we are the proto-typical American.
I've done experiments with folks in workshops where you ask people to
envision what's an all-American boy and all-American girl, and virtually
everyone has this image in their head of a white person. Now, that may
be changing and I think there are some folks on the right who
don't like the fact that they have to share the designation of American
with folks who pray different, look different- have different cultural
traditions, but that's the truth and that's the future, whether they
like it or not.
LEMON: All right, let's go on. You said, 'In the pantheon of
American history, conservative old white people have pretty much always
been the bad guys, the keepers of the hegemonic and reactionary flame,
the folks unwilling to share the category of American with others on
WISE: Right, and particularly- look, I think if you look at
history, who are the folks who have been the most reactionary and
regressive? It's usually been older white folks. Younger white folks often are in the front lines of the fight for social justice, and we should always remember that. What
I think is especially dangerous about the older folks and the Tea Party
movement in the white community is they are the last generation of
white Americans who can nostalgically look back on the pre-civil rights
era and think, 'Those were the good ol' days.' The reality is, those of
us in the post-civil rights era thankfully can't remember those days
enough to be gripped by nostalgia and longing for them....and I
think the country will be better off when we are in a position of
multi-cultural, multi-racial America. That's the America of the future,
not the America of the past.
LEMON: And you write about that. This is about the 1950s. You say, 'There
won't be any more white folks around who think the 1950s were the good
ol' days because there won't be any more white folks around who actually
remember them. We'll be able to teach about them accurately and
honestly without hurting your precious feelings.' Okay, so you talked about that. This is one I wanted- you talked about Ronald Reagan here. You said, 'You
thought you had secured your position permanently after the overthrow
of Reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War, after the elimination of
the New Deal, after the Reagan revolution, after the Republican
electoral victory of 1994. And yet, those you thought you had cowed and
defeated are still here.'
LEMON: So, I mean these are- people are going to accuse you of
racism here. The word they'll use is reverse racism. We know there's no
reverse racism. Racism is racism no matter who it comes from.
WISE: Right. Well, I mean I think people need to read more carefully.
The reality is- and I've written about this many times- there have
always been white folks who have stood shoulder to shoulder with people
of color to make this country a better place. And so, clearly, if I am
critiquing the white right, I am, by definition, excluding all of those
white folks who have fought for justice. The good news is, there have
always been those people and there still are. The better news is
that in 40 years, when half the country are folks of color and half the
country is white, it's going to be much harder for the right- with
their anti-immigrant rhetoric, their anti-Islamic rhetoric, and their
rhetoric of taking the country back to a fictitious past- to actually
appeal to that increasing black and brown America, and I think that's
going to be a good day for those of us who believe in progressivism and
LEMON: Tim Wise, thank you sir. Best of luck- I know you've gotten death threats, so we hope that you're around.
Later that hour, Lemon actually raised Wise's comments during an
interview of conservative African-American Allen West, who was just
elected a U.S. representative in Florida. West rebuked the leftist's
He [Wise] had some really harsh things to say about what he calls the
'white right.' It was really a scathing sort of op-ed or open letter in
his blog post. What did you make of what he said?
WEST: Well, I think he's totally out of touch. I think when you look at the fact that here in [Florida] Congressional District 22, I
was able to win a congressional district that is in the top five per
capita income in the United States of America. It has a population
that's 92 to 93 percent white. So this is not about color- this
is definitely about people being able to articulate the right
principles of governance, being able to present viable solutions, and it
really does come down to character. It has nothing to do with color of
skin. And I was very concerned about when he started with his
'taking our country back' rhetoric that he was addressing. It is not
time-oriented. It is not about going back to a certain period in the
United States of America. But it's about going back to constitutional
principles, understanding the right and proper mandates of our federal
government, and the interaction of the federal government with life and
society, and how does it promote our free market and free enterprise.
LEMON: Do you- that's what it means to you, but do you
understand, to some people, when you say, 'take our country back,' they
go back to where? Back to a time when my people were enslaved or were
subjugated? Do you understand to some people, when they hear those
words, that's the meaning behind those words?
WEST: Well, that's one of the things that- you know, down here, I use
the phrase (sic) 'bayonets,' and everyone thought that I was wanting to
go around and stick people and stab people, when the word 'bayonets'
came from the second day of Gettysburg, and it was a rally cry from
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, when he faced some very tough situations at
Little Round Top. So I think that people have an ability to take
anything that they want and twist it and take it out of context for
their own practical gain, and I think that that's what Mr. Wise has
- Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.