An Interview Sheds Light On Lott

Michael Wuebben is a senior producer for CBSNews.com
Trent Lott's announcement that he'll resign from the Senate revives the 2002 controversy that cost him his position as majority leader in 2002. To refresh, Lott praised fellow Senator Strom Thurmond's run for president in 1948 as a segregationist.

Bloggers have been credited with bringing the story to light. But it was Lott's performance in an interview with Black Entertainment Television that solidified his downfall as majority leader.

I was a writer for BET Nightly News when word came down that Lott offered to come on the network to try to clear the air. In a half-hour live interview, host Ed Gordon set the tone immediately that BET would not be a vehicle to air Lott's apology unchallenged. Gordon went through a list of issues where Lott stood against the consensus in the black community, from his voting against making Martin Luther King Day a national holiday to his efforts to keep his college fraternity segregated. (You can watch part of the interview in the video link on the left.)

Perhaps the moment that ended Lott's hope of keeping his leadership role came when he claimed to be for affirmative action "across the board," saying he practiced it by hiring minorities on his staff. Gordon responded with a minimum of condescension, "you understand ... to have a black on your staff and to push legislation that would help African Americans, minorities across the board are completely different."

The tension spilled over into the commercial breaks, where the two men sat in cold, awkward silence waiting for the stage manager's cue to restart the conversation.

The GOP's convert for affirmative action announced he would step down as Senate leader four days later (coincidentally, Ed Gordon's show, "BET Tonight" was cancelled shortly after the interview.) Lott said after his 2002 resignation, he had "only himself to blame." And Ed Gordon certainly didn't save Lott from himself.

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