Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2002 / 14 Teves, 5763

Jerry Nachman

Jerry Nachman
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Rep. J.C. Watts on the Trent Lott controversy | MSNBC's Editor in Chief interviewed Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma on the Trent Lott controversy. He's serving out his final days as the only black Republican in Congress.

What is your position on Trent Lott? Are we making a mountain out of a molehill here?

WATTS: "I think what has happened, Jerry, and what was said I think is serious. I think the senator went too far. I think he overstepped his boundary. But I went on to say that I think it was a sin of the head and not a sin of the heart. But make no bones about it. What he said was serious. And I think, in my conversation with the senator over the last week, he's hurting from this and he understands that this is serious business."

You are the rarest of rare birds, the only black Republican in Congress. And you're about to be extinct. You didn't run for reelection. So, there will be no black Republicans in Congress. What surprises me the most about the reaction is from Republicans who are terrified of what Lott's comments are going to do in terms of complicating their lives, both with Democrats, minorities, and liberal Republicans. Are you in that camp?

WATTS: Well, Jerry, I think the way you uncomplicate your life is to show action. I have been involved in diversity efforts over the last eight years, outreach efforts over the last eight years. And many of the people on the Republican side who are being critical of Trent Lott-they have been nowhere to be found in my camp, in terms of historical black colleges and universities, the Congressional Medal of Honor for Rosa Parks, the black farmers issue, the anti-poverty legislation, and the minority health care disparity.

Congressman, you spoke to Senator Lott since this all happened. Can you share any of that conversation with us?

WATTS: Well, Jerry, I have spoken to him several times. The first time was last Tuesday morning. I called him just to visit to see what had actually happened. I actually had not seen the comments. And then I have spoken to his communications people a couple of times. And I spoke to the senator again last Saturday night. And I can tell you, there was a difference in Senator Lott from Monday. I think he understood on Monday what had happened, the comments that he had made, the damage that it had caused. But I think, on Saturday, when I talked to him, it had really impacted him. And then I think he was really remorseful for what had happened. And he said, Jerry, he said, "Look, J.C., I brought this on myself." He said, "I wish I could take it back."

What advice have you given him?

WATTS: Well, I've told him to go into the lion's den. I said, "You need to face your accusers or talk to the people that you think this has hurt." I did not come up with the BET idea, but I do think that's a good idea for him to do that. It's unfortunate that we all have come to this point. But I would hope that we could have something substantive out of this, from the left and right, not just symbolic things, but that we can take lemons and make lemonade out of it.

JWR contributor Jerry Nachman is vice president and editor-in-chief of MSNBC, and the host of “Nachman,” which airs at 5 p.m. ET, weekdays on MSNBC. A former radio reporter, newspaper Editor-in-Chief, and even Hollywood screenwriter, he is the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and an Emmy Award, plus numerous others. He has served twice as a Pulitzer Prize Juror in the Journalism competition. Comment by clicking here.


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