Talib Kweli and Don Lemon have a conversation on CNN about Ferguson media coverage

A very important discussion on the media happened when conscious Hip Hop artist, Talib Kweli, was invited to appear on CNN for an interview with one of the network’s reporters, Don Lemon, to discuss Kweli’s organizing and activism on the ground in Ferguson, MO in response to the Michael Brown shooting. Kweli was asked by Lemon about why he chose to make his way to Ferguson. Kweli said it was important to go and be with the protesters on the ground, which makes a difference. He said that anyone could go to Twitter, post a few tweets, and state their outrage. Making the effort to be there in person, he could – along with others – influence positive change.

During the interview, Kweli critiqued white-controlled media outlets like CNN, which in his opinion use language that put protesters instead of the police in a negative light. He said that he witnessed antagonistic behavior by the police who donned themselves in riot gear and threatened to harm or even kill protesters. Those actions raised the level of anxiety with protesters and somehow violence ensured. Where it started is a matter of speculation, but CNN’s report blamed the violence on a thrown bottle from someone on the side of the protesters. Kweli said he did not see the bottle thrown, but implied the tear gas and batons resulting in violence was more problematic than the perceived threat. That police used the thrown bottle as a trigger to attack protesters peacefully assembling to voice their outrage.

In defense of his employer, CNN’s Lemon attempted to interject and cut off Kweli, intending to ask if it was just Kweli’s perception of what happened, and to question whether Kweli could make a credible judgment given he may not have been able to see everything going on during the specific incident. In doing so, Lemon suggests an alternative point of view, which CNN may have based its reporting on.

Watch the CNN with Talib Kwelie interview below.


Feeling as though Lemon was going to cut him off before he could finish his statement, Kweli rightfully stood his ground to make a very specific point: the article was misleading.  Determined to set the record straight, Kweli told Lemon that if he couldn’t finish his sentence he would end the interview. While Kweli generally agreed that CNN’s coverage was “fair” and “balanced,” the point he we think he was attempting to make is, despite CNN’s coverage being fair and balanced, those who write the headlines and the stories (known in media circles as “the producer perspective”) can manipulate the narrative simply by writing from a perspective that is not the same as those on the ground. That view serves the narrative CNN believes will attract an audience, resulting in revenue from more eyeballs to the sensationalized content.

Creatively writing these headlines, which may portray the protesters as being the problem while leaving out key information in the story, serves to deliver audience metrics resulting in higher advertising revenue for the time slot. But, is it accurate? Here Kweli is accusing CNN on sensationalism at the expense of the truth. It’s a powerful and important argument to make on national television and one that is sometimes hard to decipher by the average viewer.

While other websites used sensational headlines about how Kweli “blasts” Lemon (Salon.com) and “flips out” on Lemon (TalingPointsMemo.com) during the interview, we’re not going to do that here, because that’s Kweli’s primary point. Using sensationalistic headlines in media colors the story to slant it to the side the media company publishing the article or airing the segment hopes attracts an audience to sell ads to. Instead of news, it’s sensationalism to drive revenue.

Using words like “flips out” in a headline is exactly the issue Kweli is raising and we’re saddened, but not surprised, to see that other media outlets are trying to portray the black man as angry and out of control, when that was not the case. This has been the narrative and it needs to change. We all get into heated discussions to make our point, but when it’s a white person making a passionate argument, media portrayals tend to celebrate the person for “speaking out” or “defending” their point of view. It’s a shame Salon and TalkingPointsMemo, as well as other media outlets jump on the bandwagon and use negative headlines about Kweli’s opinion. They are simply perpetuating the problem and to Kweli’s point – they just don’t get it.