Lawrence O'Donnell ignited a controversy on Friday after his contentious interview with GOP presidential contender Herman Cain. Several portions of the lengthy conversation aroused anger, but the one that drew the most fire was the section in which O'Donnell questioned Cain about his participation in the Civil Rights movement. O'Donnell asked Cain if he regretted "sitting on the sidelines" while other black Americans were protesting in the movement -- a notion that Cain heatedly rejected.
After the interview, O'Donnell was castigated from many corners. The Atlantic called his questions "offensive," the Washington Post mocked him, and Rush Limbaugh devoted a lengthy monologue to him, calling him a liberal "plantation master."
Cain himself spoke about the interview on Friday, calling O'Donnell's questions "absurd."
On Friday, O'Donnell did not back down from his aggressive questioning. He hosted MSNBC's Al Sharpton and Melissa Harris-Perry and Goldie Taylor from TheGrio.com to discuss the interview.
O'Donnell said that he had gotten a lot of positive and negative feedback. He insisted that he "wasn't trying to instruct anyone on how to handle themselves" during the Civil Rights movement, but was only trying to highlight the fact that "history" had come to Cain's "doorstep," and wanted to know why Cain had made the choices he did.
Sharpton defended O'Donnell, saying that Cain had contradicted himself during the interview and that O'Donnell was merely trying to elicit facts from him. "I don't see where anything was out of order other than the inconsistencies of Mr. Cain," he said.
Harris-Perry, though, said that she found herself "squirming with discomfort" watching the interview. "We have to be so careful when we are not facing the lyncher's noose...about even the implication that those who did not participate were cowards," she said. She also said she could never remember anyone asking a white politician the same kinds of questions about the Civil Rights movement.
O'Donnell said that he had asked the same questions of his brother, who had discussed his lack of participation in the Civil Rights movement "comfortably," and so he did not feel out of line asking Cain about the issue.