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CNN's Lemon Argues With Black Tea Party Member; Civil War is 'Modern History'?

On Thursday's Newsroom, CNN's Don Lemon conducted a confrontational interview of a black tea party member and disputed his assertion that the U.S. is "more divided now, racially, than any other time in modern history." Lemon bizarrely reached back to the Confederacy to challenge his guest's claim: "Some of the reasons for the Civil War....was racism....How can you say the country is more divided now?"

The CNN anchor brought on the Reverend C. L. Bryant during a segment eight minutes into the 10 am Eastern hour to discuss the NAACP's recent condemnation of the tea party's "racism." After playing a clip of Bryant from the 2009 9/12 tea party rally in Washington, DC, where the tea party leader accused the Obama administration of "building walls of racism... [and] class-ism," Lemon first asked, "What do you think about this new resolution from the NAACP?" Bryant replied, "Well, unfortunately, those types of statements...are echoes of the left at this point in time."

Lemon then challenged the tea party leader both on his "wall of racism" accusation against the Obama White House and on his political labeling of the NAACP: "You just said that was a message that was coming from the left when you were talking about the NAACP's message. Now...you said in the speech- you brought up racism. You said that the President was building walls of racism.... how can you say it's just coming from the left when you just said the same thing?"

When Rev. Bryant gave his "more divided" line in response, the anchor made his Civil War reference as part of his retort:

BRYANT: There are walls that have been built of racism in this country since this administration has taken oath of office, and I say that to say this- this country is more divided now, racially, than any other time in modern history, and one of the reasons for that, I feel and fear, is because it is very convenient to play the race card when you have a black president. But if anyone voted for this president because of his color, then I would say to you, that was very foolish.

LEMON: Well, how you can say that this country is more divided than ever? I mean, when you think about the- you know, some of the reasons for the Civil War- I mean, it was racism. The country was divided, I mean, actually divided along a line. That's what the Mason Dixon line was all about. How can you say the country is more divided now? I mean, it's not- for lack of a better word, that black and white because there's progress in other ways. I'm sitting here on television. You're doing what you are doing. I don't know if we would be doing this at some other point in time.

The Civil War is "modern history"? The 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War is next year in 2011.

Bryant tried to clarify what he meant, but this resulted in another challenge from Lemon:

BRYANT: When we take into consideration since 1965, when I received the right to vote, and where we sit now, as you very adeptly said here in 2010, and you and I both are on television, and we have the opportunities we have- but yet, we're still talking about race in this country. There evidently is a place of division that exists in modern society, not since the Civil War, but since 1965-

LEMON: Are you saying we shouldn't be talking about it? We shouldn't talk about race?

BRYANT: I'm sorry- say again.

LEMON: Are you saying we shouldn't talk about race?

BRYANT: Of course, we must talk about race, but it must have a more intellectual tone-

LEMON: Okay.

BRYANT: Because African-Americans in this country are now more diverse than we ever have been before.

Near the end of the interview, the CNN anchor emulated his colleague Rick Sanchez from the previous evening in bringing up the two most egregious example of racially-charged imagery from tea party rallies:

Rev. C. L. Bryant, Tea Party Member; & Obama as witch doctor 
poster from 2009 9/12 Tea Party rally in Washington, DC | 
NewsBusters.orgLEMON: As I'm talking to you now, you're seeing the pictures of people- you know, with monkeys; ObamaCare, with the thing- the bone through his nose and all of that, and you've been to these tea party rallies. Have you not seen any of these sort of things- signs and elements?

BRYANT: Out of the thousands of people that attend tea party rallies, we are very hard-pressed to police any foolishness that you may see in those types of signs, and as I said earlier, we have discouraged and do denounce anyone who brings those types of signs to any of our rallies. That's not what we're about-

LEMON: And I think that's what the NAACP- that's what the resolution is about, and Ben Jealous said he's not saying that the entire tea party or the tea party group- that they are racist. He's saying that the tea party should denounce the racist elements. Do you agree or disagree with that?

BRYANT: We have denounced those elements, and we call upon the NAACP to denounce the murderous comments that were made by [Black] Panther members last week. If, in fact, we're going to play this particular game, then let's make it fair and balanced. If, in fact, they call on us to denounce a certain element of the right, then they must, too, come to the table and denounce certain elements that are, evidently, on the left.

LEMON: Nice talking to you, Reverend C.L. Bryant- and a civil conversation, as we should be talking about all issues. Thank you, sir.

Lemon may have had a "civil conversation" with his guest, at least when you compare it to his past labeling of the tea party movement and other conservatives. During an April 9, 2010 segment on CNN's Rick's List with former Congressman J. C. Watts, the anchor insisted that the "Republican and conservative side" was "much, much more" guilty of using hate/inflammatory language than the "Democratic side." Days earlier, on March 27, Lemon convicted Sarah Palin and tea partiers of "inciting violence." And on September 12, 2009, he praised left-wing HBO host Bill Maher for accusing Obama's conservatives opponents of being motivated by race: "Finally, someone's talking about this."

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.