CNN daytime anchor Don Lemon appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday to come strongly to the defense of the late singer Michael Jackson, whom he saluted twice as an "accidental civil rights leader." Lemon charged that anyone who thinks the Jackson story is overdone is "elitist," and when Kurtz suggested the "civil rights leader" might have been a child molester, Lemon quickly asserted that it was never proven in court and "if you talk to people who were involved in those cases, they don't believe that he did it."
Kurtz invited in Lemon, former Washington Post and New York Times entertainment reporter Sharon Waxman, and Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik. All three thought the Jackson story was not overcovered. (Kurtz claimed on Twitter it was "hard to find a critic" of the overkill on the holiday weekend.)
Lemon suggested there wasn't much criticism of the overcoverage of Princess Diana's death (what country was he living in back then?), implying maybe because she was white:
HOWARD KURTZ: Don't you feel deep down that this is overdoing it?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: No, I don't feel it's overdoing it. And I don't - and when I hear people say that, I have to be very honest with you, Howie, I think it's elitist. I don't remember - I'm sure there was some criticism when there was the coverage of Princess Diana's death, but I don't think that there was this sort of criticism that we're having with Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson is an accidental civil rights leader, an accidental pioneer. He broke ground and barriers in so many different realms in artistry, in pictures, in movies, in music, you name it. So, no, I don't think it's overkill.
KURTZ: Okay. He did all of those things. He also was accused of child molestation, and was a seriously weird person. But he has been dead for more than a week and we are still going almost wall-to-wall.
LEMON: Well, he has been dead for more than a week, yes, but Michael Jackson twice - well, once, I should say, he was acquitted of child molestation. The other time it was settled out of court.
LEMON: And if you talk to people who were involved in those cases, they don't believe that he did it. So let's put that aside.
Just minutes later, after putting aside all the suggestions of child molestation, Lemon improbably claimed, "I'm not a Michael Jackson apologist or sympathizer, what have you. I mean, I criticize him just as much as the next guy." That's not true. Within seconds, Waxman and Lemon were both praising Jackson some more:
SHARON WAXMAN: We've spent a lot of years beating up on Michael Jackson, and I was - I covered them both - many aspects of beating up on him, business-wise, and the child molestation thing. And what I think we're realizing in all of this is, hey, he was actually a good - a nice person. And I can't say how many people...
LEMON: A real person.
WAXMAN: ....I think there is a sense in the media of feeling badly, of regret in the Michael Jackson - honestly, there is a little bit of that haze of expiation in, gee, he was kind of fantastic.
LEMON: If you look at Michael Jackson's story, the family story - I know you have to go, but yes, this is a story that should be celebrated in more ways as we look at the train wreck aspect of it.
Below the surface of the train wreck, Jackson should be celebrated? What was Lemon trying to say?
- Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.