NEW YORK (AP) — CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord tweeted clips of speeches from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the overnight hours Friday, capping a strange day where he stepped on a third rail of American politics by suggesting viewers think of President Donald Trump as “the Martin Luther King of health care.”
Lord made his comparison on CNN’s morning “New Day” on Thursday and ended the day in a shouting match with CNN’s Don Lemon. He was the subject of social media derision and outrage during the hours in between, illustrating what some critics suggest is cable television’s ability to bring heat, if not light, to an issue.
Lord, a political commentator and contributor to the American Spectator who worked in the final years of the Reagan White House, is one of a handful of pro-Trump commentators that CNN hired during the last election. Generally amiable, he’s gotten into a few rough exchanges with other CNN pundits, most notably Van Jones on election night.
Fellow commentator Symone Sanders’ eyes widened in astonishment when Lord first equated Trump with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner. “There is no similarity,” she said.
Lord explained in a column he later wrote for CNN.com that he was equating a reported Trump threat to withhold payments to health insurers in order to get Democrats to the negotiating table on health care reform with King’s demonstrations as a tactic to force congressional action on civil rights in the 1960s.
“Both men used or are threatening to use crisis to pass legislation,” he wrote. “There is nothing in the least wrong in saying so.”
Lord said during his appearance on Lemon’s show that “there are no people of color. There are only Americans,” a view that Black commentators said was naive and didn’t reflect their lives. During one testy exchange, Lord compared Lemon, who is Black, to Bull Connor, the former Birmingham, Alabama public safety commissioner who fought civil rights marches.
Lemon said Lord had ignored why many had considered the comparison between Trump and King insulting. When Lord noted that his father once lost a job for standing in defense of a Black waitress, Lemon shot back to drop the “before the war crap.”
“Dr. King means something different to the people who are sitting here than he meant to you,” Lemon said. “He wasn’t just a tactic for us. He is a real person who helped me to be able to get here and Symone to be able to sit here and for Bakari (Sellers) to be able to sit here. For you to come on and give some reckless comparison to his legacy…”
When Lord tried to interrupt, Lemon stopped him. “We’re done,” he said.
Lord later went on Twitter to post speeches by King, calling him “a hero unafraid to oppose judging by skin color.”
While the Lord controversy angered some observers, it depressed others. It’s hardly the first time someone has said something provocative on cable news. But the incident brought new attention to the extent to which CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC — at a time of particularly strong ratings — talk about the news rather than report it.
A former CNN anchor who took her disgust to Twitter, Soledad O’Brien, said in an interview there were more productive ways for the network to spend its time. There are plenty of Trump voters who feel unease about health care and Republicans who have serious concerns about the government’s role in the insurance market, she said. Why not talk to them?
“This is not about journalism,” said O’Brien, host of the syndicated Sunday news program “Matter of Fact.” ”This is about putting on a sideshow. It’s a car crash.”
Another former CNN commentator, Roland Martin, tweeted that Lord is doing exactly what CNN executives want him to do — attract attention.
“Executives there want Jeffrey Lord’s nutty comments. Why? To keep you talking and tweeting,” said Martin, the TV One personality who allegedly tipped off the Clinton campaign in advance last year about a question that would be posed at a forum.
CNN declined comment on the issue Friday.