CNN’s Don Lemon Faces Backlash After ‘Ambushing’ Black Pastor Who Declined to Criticize Trump

By Zachary Stieber

Don Lemon of CNN faced backlash from a number of media figures after conducting an interview one described as “ambushing” a black pastor who met with President Donald Trump and declined multiple times to criticize Trump as Lemon pressed him to do so.

Rev. Bill Owens was repeatedly cut off by Lemon, who asked three times if anyone at the meeting had brought up Trump’s criticism of Baltimore and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-M.d.).

“What did the president say about his attacks on these leaders of color and did any of these faith leaders raise concerns about that?” Lemon asked.

“I think something was said in passing. I don’t tune into negative talk from any side, so some things were mentioned and I took the position that we as black pastors should do down to Baltimore and see what we can do to help.”

Owens transitioned to telling Lemon that he was born poor and grew up in a two-room home without water or light, but he was cut off by Lemon.

President Donald Trump speaks
President Donald Trump speaks at the signing of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund bill in the White House Rose Garden in Washington on July 29, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

“The question was, what did the president say about his attacks against those leaders of color and did any of the faith leaders say about that,” Lemon said, reading off of his script.

Owens said he didn’t recall Trump ever saying anything about the skin color of people he was criticizing. “There was some things discussed, said, but I don’t remember him referring to leaders of color.”

Lemon asked the same question a third time, rephrasing it slightly.

“That was not the purpose of the meeting today. The meeting was how can we help the black community,” Owens said. “That was my concern. That was the purpose of the meeting. That is the reason why I came to Washington and that is my focus, helping our inner-city young people especially, our children, our young people.”

Lemon’s fourth question was about the same topic, despite Owens answering three times, asking, “Any concern that the president used today’s meeting today to insulate himself from that criticism?”

“I don’t think so,” Owens said. “I don’t think that at all because I’ve been to the White House four times in five months. So it was nothing about insulating him about anything. He wanted to hear from us what our concerns were and what he could do to help us.”

Lemon abruptly pivoted to remarks Owens made in 2012 about President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, calling them “controversial” and appearing to miscategorize them.

“That is an outrageous statement, why should anybody take you seriously?” Lemon wondered.

“I never said that,” Owens responded. “I’ve never said that. I have never said that.”

Owens said he supported Obama on everything but same-sex marriage, which he still believes is not right. As he spoke, the chyron, or the line of text underneath the two talking heads, changed from “Potus meets with African American faith leaders in the wake of his attacks against leaders of color” to “Controversial African American pastor meets with president.”

After vigorous pushback from Owens, Lemon pivoted back to Trump, saying: “I know it’s hard for you, you think it’s hard to believe that Trump is racist,” he began.

“But he’s repeatedly used racially charged language,” Lemon claimed, without citing any examples. “He consistently attacks black and brown elected leaders. So why is that hard to believe, pastor?”

don lemon says "racist tweets"
(L)-President Donald Trump speaks to media before departing the White House on Marine One en route to Bedminster, N.J., on July 19, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times) (R)-Don Lemon of CNN at an event in New York City on May 4, 2019. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for GLAAD)

“President Trump attacks leaders of all colors. He attacks who he will. He’s his own man. I can’t dictate what he should or should not do. But he does not just attack black people, he attacks anybody and you know it,” Owens responded.

Lemon then tried to repackage Owens comments, saying, “As a man of faith, as a Christian, you’re saying he attacks anyone, it sounds like you’re condoning attacks? Is that Christianly [sic] or Godly?”

“I’m just stating a statement of fact, I’m not condoning anything,” Owens said. “President Trump does not pick the people he attacks because of color.”

Owens then started speaking about his work with black youth before Lemon cut him off again, saying: “Pastor, I appreciate you giving me your biography, but … what does that have to do with president?”

Lemon was widely criticized over the interview, with critics saying he repeatedly asked non-neutral questions and took an aggressive tone with the pastor in addition to stopping him from speaking multiple times.

Reactions

“This is bad. Really really bad,” wrote Jason Howerton, a writer for The Blaze.

“This is way beyond pathetic. Don Lemon couldn’t get this pastor to criticize Trump so the pathetic [expletive] turns on his own guest. THIS is a CNN,” added Neal Boortz, a talk radio personality.

“I said it then and I’ll say it again, what @donlemon did here was absolutely disgusting,” said Seth Weathers, a political strategist.

“Don Lemon went harder after this black pastor than CNN did after Richard Spencer,” said commentator Stephen Miller, referring to Spencer, a white supremacist, who recently appeared on CNN.

“When Don Lemon realized he wouldn’t be able to get his guest to criticize Trump, the chyron changed from ‘faith leaders’ to ‘controversial pastor.’ This is really gross, CNN,” added Erielle Davison, a Federalist contributor.

T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner, added on Twitter: “What an embarrassment for don lemon and CNN. that certainly wasn’t journalism. it was not even thoughtful partisan commentary. it was just straight trolling. Don Lemon is a troll.”