Don Lemon, Bill O’Reilly & the Politics of Deflection and Distortion

Don Lemon, Bill O’Reilly & the Politics of Deflection and Distortion

Don Lemon and Bill OReilly


What race of people collect more welfare, have the most single family households in most states, abuse drugs more as youth and commit the most crime  in America?

The answer may not be what you think. See below.

But first…


Have you noticed that since Edward Snowden leaked the National Security Administration (NSA)‘  secret that it has been collecting Americans’ phone and online records that no one really has been talking about the leaks and instead the focus has been on Snowden, his asylum application, and whether Russia or some other South American nation will let the 20-something whistleblower come live in their country?

That is what happens when the narrative on a complex issue gets successfully shifted from the substance of the matter that may be worthy of discussion  on to another one that may be tangentially related, but for the most part, is really off topic.

The classic “avoid the issue and deflect” technique is not new. It has been used in the campaign and interview debate context to throw off an opponent when one is backed against the wall and challenged to answer the tough questions.


So this weekend, it seems CNN anchor Don Lemon too fell for the ole “okey-doke-bait-and-switch” technique that conservative pundits have been floating in reaction to outrage over the George Zimmerman acquittal for the admitted killing of 17-year old Sanford, Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

Don Lemon took Bill O’Reilly‘s bait.

O’Reilly felt he needed to take on the reaction and protests of so many over the Zimmerman acquittal verdict.

Only, he also preferred to avoid discussing (1) available statistics supporting the devalue of black life and that say  killers of black victims are less likely to be arrested, charged, prosecuted, and convicted, and when they are, have shorter sentences; (2) whether stand your ground laws empower ordinary citizens to  take the law in their own hands when there is a conflict, and simply contrive a narrative to fit the defense and walk; and (3) the fact that black men (and women) are feared by others in some contexts often simply because of their skin without having them having to do much more to substantiate that fear.

Dealing with all that would have involed complicated conversations, critiques, inquiries and analysis and simply pile on a a heavy helping of “white guilt”, Bill probably thought. Who wants to deal with all that?oreilly

So…instead, O’Reilly decides to avoid those  discussions and to shift, deflect and turn the focus on statistics about crime in urban cities, feed on negative perceptions of hip hop music lyrics, and bemoan, once again, the state of single motherhood in the  black community.

In doing so,  O’Reilly knows he can successfully spin his rhetoric and provide cover for George Zimmerman sympathizers who were comfortable in their mental perceptions that social media photos, and an incident in school were sufficient to write off Trayvon Martin as just another “typical” weed-taking thug…who was bound to get in bigger trouble or land in jail, if not killed later anyway.

O’Reilly’s commentary was not about concern for African Americans or urban violence.

No it was given for the sole purpose of elevating the perceptions in the minds of his audience that black = deviant, illegitimate, self-destructive, less than….ergo George Zimmerman was right to go after Trayvon Martin and was rightfully in fear of his life when he pulled the trigger.

In a nutshell, he is saying, you Black youth are to blame for others fearing you.

You need to change what you want to wear, listen to and say in order to not be followed and killed.


“The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the Black community is the denigration of the African American family…raised without much structure, young black men often reject education, process and gravitate towards street culture, drugs, gangs,”  O’Reilly says. “Nobody forces them to do that.”

And just like clockwork, O’Reilly’s followers  started circulating his words as gospel and throwing them back in the faces of anyone who dared speak up for Trayvon Martin.

It has been used as a sort of justification for Martin’s killing.

And sadly, Don Lemon walked right into it too.


And thus  Saturday, he hopped on the O’Reilly conservative talking point bandwagon this weekend, ending a segment of his broadcast to issue a condescending and oversimplified missive, saying that  O’Reilly “doesn’t go far enough”.   Lemon then offered Black men his five point primer on what they need to do to be “respectable” and essentially accepted in society: (1) don’t sag their pants; (2) stop saying the n-word; (3) stop littering; (4) finish high school, and (5) have fewer children out of wedlock.

Follow these steps and VOILA!!  No more racism. Problem solved! On to the next social ill!

errr…. yeah. O_o

The issues Lemon brings up are worth debating, but, as a friend once characterized it, certainly not  within two breaths of discussing the impact and symbolic nature of the Zimmerman verdict and what it says about America’s double system of justice.

But we thought he got it given that his piece ended with a snippet of Daily Beast writer Kristen Powers  saying “conservatives are so concerned about black-on-black crime, it’s a little concerning the only time I hear them talking about it is when they want to stick it to the black community. ”


Other than for pointing out the ills of or to deflect or defame, when else do the O’Reillys, the Hannitys and Limbaughs of the pundit world ever talk about issues of  violence  plaguing the black community? When have they independently initiated serious discussion that doesn’t involve sticking it to Obama or castigating the African American community? The answer is NEVER.

They only address perceived negative aspects of “black culture” to perpetuate generally held notions and assumptions people already have. Most are usually inaccurate, half-baked or based on skewed statistics, propaganda, media portrayals and plain ignorance.

But if we are going to go down that rabbit hole, let’s go then….

On Out-of-wedlock births 

single mom

By Lemon’s logic, which aligns squarely with that of O’Reilly and friends, you’d think single parenthood was an issue unique to Black America alone.

But  it’s not.  The Centers for Disease Control state that in  2010  there were  627,541 out-of-wedlock births  to White women, as writer Jesse Taylor noted today in Buzzfeed .

Seriously, look at 2011 stats  of children living in single family households:

470,000 in Pennsylvania
340,000 in Colorado
106,000 in Idaho
213,000 in Kansas
261,000 in Oregon
316,000 in Oklahoma
181,000 in Utah
403,000 in Wisconsin
453,000 in Washington?

You only have to  look at the racial make up of these states to figure out, those aren’t all black kids!

On  Crime and Violence

Handguns account for a clear majority of gun deaths in the US every year

Further, the entire black-on-black crime is a myth and contributes to the criminalization perception of all black boys and helps promote the thinking which equates an entire race of people as being more prone to violence or to commit crime. Crime is crime. It’s useless really to mention race when discussing it. Just like 90% of crime against blacks are commited by blacks, likewise FBI stats  show that 90% of whites are killed, raped or victimized  by whites.

Crime is a factor of proximity. People are usually harmed by those they closely socialize and live with and in our segregated world, that explains that truism.  One simply look at the crime rate in Idaho, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma with a minuscule black population to know that those few could not possibly be responsible for the thousands of crimes committed in those states annually.

And irrespective of the recent rash of killings in urban streets that is being addressed and does need be further discussed, let’s not let that issue get us away from the salient  ones that people are talking about in the Zimmerman verdict context.

This is all about disparate treatment in the justice system when the victim is not-white or black. Point blank.

Rather than deal with those justice system inequities like sentencing disparities, juvenile detention disparities, arrest and charge differences between black and white for the same crime, why Whites make up 67% of the total US population and 70% of all arrests, yet only 40% of all inmates held in state prisons or local jails and 56% of the population on death row, it is more comfortable and easy to feed  or fuel (in Lemon’s case) people’s negative perceptions than to correct them.

On Youth Drug Usage


And similarly, a recent  study shows that white youth abuse drugs at a higher rate than blacksThe problem is black youth are more likely to go through the criminal justice system on account of their usage and possession of drugs while white kids get sentenced to treatment facilities.

That is the issue, Don, that Bill doesn’t want to talk about.

On Boys and Education


It’s okay to address those who are not finishing school, but don’t forget, Don, in 2012, 21.4% of all blacks had college degrees.

And equally, 19% of black males had college degrees in 2012. That means  4 million of the total 22 million black men in the US population of all ages have college degrees.

Meanwhile,  while Whites are majority in the population (79%), only 34% have college degrees.  I mean, if we are going to focus on negative statistics, and all.

A higher proportion of black males in Minnesota graduate high school compared to white males in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and New Mexico, Buzzfeed recently noted.

On Blacks and Welfare and Food Stamps

food stamps

Similar perceptions permeate regarding welfare.

A paltry 2.6% of the African Americans in New Mexico get food stamps (SNAP) as opposed to 82.8% of Whites in 2011, per that state’s latest statistics.

Equally, while nationwide, we do need to address the 39% of black children growing in poverty, there is little recognition that  this leaves 61%, or a majority not growing in poverty.

We all assumed Don understood that.

And while  black food stamp recipients are 22%, disproportionate to Black’s 13% representation in the total US population, 2011 statistics show that over 80% of the recipients of food stamps in red states were White.  That is

319,121 in Colorado
295,106 in Iowa
701, 757 in Kentucky
201,248 in Maine
800, 909 in Missouri
Over 1million in Tennessee
581,025 in Oregon

What Don should have said is that we need to discuss single motherhood, crime, education and poverty for all Americans who suffer through it, even those who may disproportionately for various social, economic and historical reasons.

On why dress and other suggested adjustments won’t lead to respectable treatment


Bill, just like Don, highlighted stats that perpetuate stereotypes and essentially justify ill or different treatment solely based on race.

Thus, when an African American goes shopping, it’s not that simple as “don’t wear saggy jeans if you want to avoid being followed or to be rewarded with good customer service.”

Here’s the kicker: Even if we were dressed to the nines, there is no guarantee we’d get quality treatment. Why is the onus and burden on us to present ourselves in a way to debunk other people’s skewed stereotypes and perception?

Don has opted against challenging others’ for automatically deeming an entire race of people as not credit worthy, potential criminals and not deserving of respect.

A quick anecdote to illustrate this point:

My husband and I went to a JosA Banks store in a suburb of Washington, DC to buy a few suits because it was having an amazing sale. The store manager simply showed us the area of the store and let us do all the browsing and figuring out ourselves with no help whatsoever. A young white couple walked in after us and the shopkeeper bent over backwards to help the couple, fetching different suits off the rack, taking the guy’s measurements.  In the end, the couple walked out without buying a thing and my husband purchased two suits. The couple did nothing to deserve good treatment  other than walk in the store in the skin they were born in. Likewise, we did not do anything to deserve substandard treatment either…other than walk in the store in the skin we were born in.

We don’t litter, use the N Word, have not had kids out of wedlock, don’t wear our pants sagging and have graduated from high school, and college and law school.

So when Blacks do act accordingly per Lemon’s prescription,  respectable treatment is not always a guaranteed end result.

Maybe consider that the problem isn’t on our shoulders alone to fix.

Nope, complex issues cannot be dumbed down to five simple bullet points.


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Jay Jay Ghatt is also editor at, founder of the and where she teaches online creators how to navigate digital entrepreneurship and offers Do-It-For-You Blogging Service. She manages her lifestyle sites BellyitchBlog, Jenebaspeaks and and is the founder of 200 Black Women in Tech On Twitter. Her biz podcast 10 Minute Podcast is available on iTunes and Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks. Buy her templates over at her legal and business templates on Etsy shop!