Harsh Questioning of Cain Gets O’Donnell in Hot Water

Lawrence O'Donnell (Photo: Getty Images)

Lawrence O'Donnell (Photo: Getty Images)

Liberal Lawrence O’Donnell found himself the target of harsh criticism for the way he interrogated Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain last week on “Last Word.”

The subject was the civil rights movement, and O’Donnell was criticized following the interview last Thursday for appearing to accuse Cain of somehow shirking his responsibilities as a young African-American in the 1960s for not diving in head first and taking part in the era’s sit-ins and marches.

In the interview seen on MSNBC’s “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” — details of which can be found here on HuffingtonPost.com — O’Donnell’s questioning of Cain’s whereabouts and activities during the height of the civil rights movement struck many as prosecutorial (the HuffPost story has a number of links to critics who articulated their disappointment with O’Donnell).

“Did you expect every black student and every black college in America to be out there?” Cain asked O’Donnell at one point in their exchange, reported here.

The genial Republican, who likely resented being forced to defend himself for youthful actions taken more than 40 years ago, explained, basically, that he kept his focus on his education, at the urging of his father, who advised him to steer clear of activism in favor of pursuing the education necessary to earn him a career and secure his future. O’Donnell, however, accused Cain of making “a deliberate decision to not participate in the Civil Rights movement!”

The next day, O’Donnell defended his Cain interview by recruiting an MSNBC colleague, Al Sharpton, to discuss the interview with him Friday on “Last Word.” Surprise, surprise: Sharpton sided with O’Donnell.

In the end, the interview appearance probably burnished Cain’s image, and damaged O’Donnell’s.

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