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Worse Before It Gets Better: Lemon-O’Reilly Race Agreement To Rile Up Cable News War

Talk about strange bedfellows.

CNN and Fox News are rivals.

So are CNN and MSNBC.

And no one needs reminding of the warm feelings MSNBC and Fox have for each other.

But with Fox winning the ratings race, jockeying for second place is the hottest ticket on the cable news fight card, at least for now.

MSNBC jumped into this position after a relatively stellar 2012, primarily thanks to the Presidential Election and the performance of its own horse in that race. But 2013—a non-election year—it’s been a whole new ballgame, as CNN has greatly benefitted from focusing on news that is much less political and much more in the human-interest domain: Boston bombings, Cleveland kidnappings, Oklahoma tornado, George Zimmerman, and the future King George.

Still, it is odd to see CNN’s Don Lemon, a black, gay, increasingly opinionated anchor jump to the defense of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, a white, heterosexual, always-opinionated host, and his commentary on race.

To review for those not familiar with the story, Lemon stated on his show Saturday that not only did he agree with O’Reilly’s candid perspective on race, but from his perspective, O’Reilly hadn’t gone far enough. In short, O’Reilly said that black communities were struggling because of a breakdown of the family unit. Lemon obviously heard these remarks and played them on his show, which, again…is like Pepsi (CNN) serving Coke (Fox) at a corporate picnic: “Raised without much structure, young black men often reject education and gravitate towards the street culture, drugs, hustling, gangs.”

Tagging out of the clip, Lemon said, “Bill’s got a point. In fact, he’s got more than a point … In my estimation, he doesn’t go far enough.”

Unfiltered and brave commentary, considering the source (a host from a competing network), and also considering the backlash Lemon absolutely knew a defense of the conservative O’Reilly would create. On Sunday, he shared just how deep the vitriol has already become.

Leading the charge against Lemon is MSNBC in the form of Goldie Taylor. But first (earlier in the week), Chris Hayes—who knows all about struggles of a different kind since moving to prime time and promptly occupying fourth place on most nights—continued his transformation from sober and civilized to awkward and confrontational by taking a page from the Olbermann playbook by calling O’Reilly’s memo a “super racist rant.”

Al Sharpton—who would never, ever try to exploit or ferment racial tensions—also got into the act, declaring “we need a real conversation about justice in this country, not the same old right-wing divide and conquer garbage. Bill O’Reilly, the Willie Horton stuff has got to go.” In an unrelated story, the “Willie Horton stuff” came the same year Tawana Brawley falsely accused six white men of rape. So Sharpton already knows a thing or two about that whole dividing and conquering garbage.

Anyway, since Hayes and Sharpton don’t have a weekend show to respond to Lemon (but you can bet it’s coming on Monday), enter Taylor via Twitter to bring a whole new level of civility to the conversation:

In Taylor’s world, of course, individual opinions aren’t valued…it’s all about uniformity of sentiment along racial lines. It’s also apparently a place where “turncoat” is no longer one word (saving characters wherever possible is key on Twitter).

In terms of backlash, Lemon is already finding out what Charles Barkley did last week: Broach anything related to black-on-black crime or racism within the black community itself, and be prepared to be called an Uncle Tom or a turncoat mofo.

Monday will be an interesting day on all the cable networks. On Fox, it is fairly certain O’Reilly will play Lemon’s comments. On CNN, Lemon will again respond to his critics as the story may expand to other shows, other hosts. And on MSNBC, minus an election and any pesky breaking news getting in the way of this discussion, race will once be the soup of the day, as has been the case for about the past 60 days or so…

Lost in the cacophony, of course, is Lemon’s list from Saturday of five things that members of all races “should think about doing,” including (paraphrased):

– Respecting communities by not dropping trash on the ground or ignoring trash already there
– Fighting poverty by finishing school (Lemon compared earning potential between high school dropouts, high school graduates and college graduates)
– Pulling up sagging pants as a sign of self-respect
– Elimination of the ‘n’ word from any discourse
– Addressing the issue of absentee fathers (Lemon cited a stat showing 72 percent of all African-Americans babies are born to unwed moms)

Basic stuff, but powerful. And a rarity given all the sizzle and lack of steak that conversations on cable news have become.

In one corner: Don Lemon and Bill O’Reilly, which is the most unlikely duo we’ve seen on any screen since Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte.

In the other corner: Goldie Taylor, Chris Hayes and Al Sharpton.

Monday will be an interesting day indeed…


Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @ConchSports

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