On Tuesday evening, CNN’s Don Lemon spoke with Rev. Bill Owens, founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP). Owens had met with Trump earlier that day. Yet it quickly became clear Lemon had no intention of learning anything about the meeting. Lemon, seemingly obsessed with Trump’s recent tweets attacking Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), pressured the pastor to talk about the Cummings tweets, something Owens considered irrelevant. After Owens resolutely refused to condemn Trump as a racist, Lemon launched into personal attacks against him.
“What did the president say about his attacks against these leaders of color and did any of the faith leaders raise concerns about that?” Lemon began.
“Well, I think something was said in passing. I don’t tune in to negative talk from any side,” Owens responded. “I took the position that we as black pastors should go down to Baltimore and see what we can do to help.” He said he grew up “in a two-room house, no water, no lights … so I know poverty.”
Yet again, the CNN anchor asked, “Did anybody there raise concerns about what he has been saying lately about people like Elijah Cummings or anyone?”
“Well, that was not the purpose of the meeting today. Today, the meeting was how can we help the black community. That is my concern and that was the purpose of the meeting. That was the reason I came to Washington and that is my focus: helping our inner-city young people especially, our children, our young people,” the pastor replied.
Lemon then noted President Trump’s tweet about the meeting and asked, “Any concern for you that the president used this meeting with black leaders 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 there was nothing about insulating him from anything. He wanted to hear from us what our concerns were and what he could do to help us.”
Perhaps Trump just cares about the black community and wants to help black Americans succeed. But no, that can’t be right, because he’s a racist, right?
Rather than accepting what Owens just told him, Lemon launched into an attack on the black pastor.
“And pastor, you’ve said some controversial things before. In 2012, you equated President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage to supporting child molestation. You later walked that back. But that in itself is an outrageous statement,” the CNN anchor said. “Why should anyone take you seriously?’
Taken aback by the insinuation, Owens responded, “I have never said that. I had a difference with Obama about same-sex marriage, I’ve never mentioned a child. Never, never never. If I did, find it.”
Lemon referenced a report from CNN’s Dan Merica, which quoted the pastor as comparing child molestation to Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. The report acknowledged, however, that Owens “walked those comments back, saying he didn’t think the president was condoning molestation.”
It appears the pastor thought Lemon was suggesting he accused Obama of being a child molester. “As a matter of fact, the president is a gentleman,” Owens said. “The only thing I disagree with president Obama on was same-sex marriage. That’s the only thing. Then the reporters tried to get me to go into other avenues and I would not do it because I feel same-sex marriage was ungodly.”
Then, having undermined Owens’ credibility, the CNN anchor pivoted back to Trump’s alleged racism.
“I know it’s hard for you, you think it’s hard to believe that Trump is racist. But he’s repeatedly used racially-charged language. He consistently attacks black and brown elected leaders. So why is that hard to believe, pastor?” Lemon asked.
“Well, I find President Trump — leaders of all colors. He attacks who he will. He’s his own man, and 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 replied.
Faced with the clear fact that Trump does attack politicians based on their politics, not their race, Lemon tried another angle. He suggested that the pastor’s remarks constituted an endorsement of political attacks.
“So as a man of faith, as a Christian, you’re saying he attacks anyone. It sounds like you’re condoning attacks. Is that Christianly or godly?” the anchor asked.
What a disgusting question. Owens had already said that Trump is “his own man, and I can’t dictate what he should or should not do.” He was not condoning the attacks, not at all — and Lemon knew it.
“I’m just stating a statement of fact. I’m not condoning anything,” Owens replied. “President Trump does not pick the people he attacks because of color. He attacks anybody he feels needs it.”
“And is that okay with you?” the CNN anchor asked, as if he were totally oblivious to the plain meaning of the pastor’s words.
“Well, I’m not his judge. I’ve been attacked. Let me tell you something,” Owens began. He described the attacks he received when he started recruiting black students for a seminary. Some critics asked him, “Why are you down in that white man’s school?”
“What does that have to do with this president?” Lemon asked.
“I was criticized then and I am criticized now, directly and indirectly, for meeting the president,” Owens said, summarizing the interview. He insisted that he has worked with “all presidents” on his agenda — helping inner-city kids succeed.
The black pastor was 100 percent correct on Trump: he did not attack “The Squad” or Cummings because he’s some kind of racist, targeting “people of color.” These Democrats had repeatedly and routinely slammed Trump and federal immigration enforcement agencies. It is arguable that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) “concentration camps” attack on ICE inspired a terrorist attack.
Trump’s attacks may have gone too far, and Owens did not endorse them. He merely pointed out that the attacks had to do with politics, not race.
Perhaps more importantly, the pastor reinforced Trump’s intent to help the black community. He met with black pastors four times in the past five months. This isn’t a smokescreen to “insulate himself” from criticism. It’s a genuine concern on the part of the president.
"President Trump does not attack people because of color. He attacks anybody he feels need it." – Rev. Bill Owens says Trump's meeting with African American pastors was not an attempt to insulate himself from his recent attacks on Rep. Cummings and his Baltimore district. pic.twitter.com/9FcmiDVutd
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) July 30, 2019
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.