Lawrence O'Donnell Under Fire for Herman Cain Interview (Video)

The MSNBC anchor's line of questioning regarding the presidential hopeful's participation in the civil rights movement raises eyebrows.
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The Last Word host Lawrence O'Donnell is being taken to task for an interview with Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain Thursday that questioned his role in the civil rights movement.

After reading an excerpt from Cain's book in which Cain says he was "too young to participate when they first started the freedom rides and sit-ins" and  "I just kept going to school doing what I was supposed to do, and stayed out of trouble [as my father told me to]," O'Donnell asked, "Where do you think black people would be sitting on the bus today if Rosa Parks had followed your father's advise?"

Cain replied that O'Donnell was distorting facts with his question: "My father was not given Rosa Parks' advice. Here again, Lawrence, you are distorting the intent of what I said. I was a high school student. The college students were going the sit-ins. If I had been a college student, I probably would have been participating but if you're a high school student in the 10th or 11th grade, you're under 18 years of age, you didn't need to get arrested and be in the middle that."

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Cain continued, "I was impacted by that on a daily basis simply because I was living in Atlanta, Georgia when all of this was going on. It was not prudent. This is what my dad meant. It was not prudent for a high school student to be in the middle of what was going on in terms of those demonstrations."

O'Donnell went on to press Cain on the issue, asking if he regretted "sitting on the sidelines" of the movement as a college student at Morehouse. O'Donnell said, "Mr. Cain, you were in college from 1963 to 1967 at the height of the civil rights movement. You watched black college students from around the country and while college students from around the country come to the south and be murdered, fighting for the rights of African-Americans. Do you regret sitting on those sidelines at that time?"

Cain said O'Donnell made an irrelevant comparison and retorted, "Did you expect every black student and every black college in America to be out there in the middle of every fight? The answer is no. So for you to say why was I sitting on the sidelines, I think that that is an inaccurate deduction that you are trying to make.

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"You didn't know, Lawrence, what I was doing with the rest of my life. You didn't know what my family situation may have been. Maybe, just maybe I had a sick relative, which is why I might not have been sitting in or doing the freedom rides. So what I'm saying, Lawrence, is with all due respect, you deduction is incorrect and it's not logical."

The Washington Post's Alexandria Petri was among those objecting to the exchange. She writes, "It’s bad enough when candidates get questioned on their records. Most of us have done enough objectionable things to doom our presidential campaigns many times over. Now they also have to be questioned about Things Lawrence O’Donnell Would Have Done Had He Been In Your Place?"

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf labeled the interview "offensive" and said O'Donnell "repeatedly hectored candidate Herman Cain in a disrespectful way" that is "hard to imagine being asked on MSNBC to anyone other than a black conservative."

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Friedersdorf continues, "If there were ever a segment designed to show liberals the folly of trying to mimic Fox News, this is it. I really dislike that network. And in this interview, O'Donnell was beneath it. Kudos to Cain for keeping impressively composed and responsive during an ordeal where Vietnam veterans and dead civil rights marchers were shamelessly invoked to bait him."

CNN's John King labeled the interview a "character assassination" that will help Cain more than hurt him: "Perhaps the most detestable media character assassination I have seen in a very long time happened on MSNBC with Lawrence O'Donnell attacking Herman Cain. What an outrage. Just as the attack on Rick Perry over a rock no one can find will help Perry, this will help Cain. In the attack, O'Donnell accuses Herman Cain of sitting out the civil rights movement and accuses Cain's father of some sort of racial cowardice for advising his son how to avoid being attacked during those heated days."

O'Donnell's first civil rights question is at the 7:25 mark.

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