Producing a nightly news show starts with news of the day. In a Presidential election year the race to the White House especially in battleground states is news, but not all the news. Weeknights at ten pm Don Carlton Lemon,the fifty something,dashing,articulate host of CNN brings viewers in close for what is billed as two hours of journalism. Minus commercial breaks leaves Lemon 100 minutes nightly or 500 minutes weekly. With that amount of air time it's reasonable to expect news important to Americans with a touch of something from the entertainment,business or sports world. Now imagine if a hurricane hit and 26 people died,communities flooded, lives devastated. Finding time for a story with that much human tragedy and economic impact should be easy. In October Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina 26 people died,communities flooded and lives devastated. Even with North Carolina being an important swing state,with Clinton,Trump,Kaine,Pence,Biden,Barack and Michelle Obama, countless celebrities and press pools barnstorming the state, Don Lemon didn't give a damn. The hurricane's human and economic impact did not warrant coverage. Don Lemon's 500 minutes were too booked with shows trying to prove that Hillary was a shoe in and Trump a deviant,too busy for news important to everyday Americans. Hurricane Matthew's 27th death was Don Lemon's journalistic credibility.
Falling out of touch with Americans through media arrogance has become the rule not the exception. Don Lemon's fall the most disappointing. For years his journalism was authentic and promising. His reports were thought provoking and identifiable to our human condition. His isn't the only journalism death at CNN. Lemon's 100 minutes arrives after hours of a Family Feud broadcast model operated by CNN. Throw out a topic,have a nauseating amount of shouting guests on each side,add a host to create the illusion of journalism and eat up the clock.
The afternoon to prime time quest for journalists starts at four on The Lead with Jake Tapper a hour of hope that Tapper will practice journalism like he did at ABC. At five The Situation Room with Wolfe Blitzer a two hour painstaking process searching for the Wolfe who started back when CNN employed practicing journalists. At seven Out Front with Erin Burnett a regurgitating review of three previous hours. At eight 360 with Anderson Cooper, the obligatory watch of the franchise player. Cooper still practices journalism but only when reporting on CBS 60 Minutes. The six hours between Tapper and Lemon are distinguished mostly by standing and sitting. Tapper, Blitzer, Burnett sit. When Cooper hosts panel discussions he stands like a Soho poster for Italian shoes. One wonders how much longer Cooper will remain idle for the cookie cutter shows before and after his broadcast. Cooper being less broadcast efficient may be a function of some complacent corporate plan, but Cooper being indistinguishable from the rest, should be fighting words for his agent,personal pride and legacy.
Still searching for journalists we arrive at 10 pm. Don Lemon's CNN Tonight is a Hip Hoppy blend where media friends double as guests, and personal agenda becomes Lemon's version of the news. He shows a obvious disregard for news important to everyday Americans. Still, his show preparation a reminder he was trained as a journalist. Lemon’s fastidious on air exercise,the note cards face up like a late night Solitaire game,laptop to his right,smart phone to the left,reading glasses at half arms length never staying too long on his face, all positioned like sterilized surgical tools. Pleasing to the eye Lemon is the visual real deal. He sits upright in a Catholic school looking posture. What rings of a recurring back problem, Lemon fidgets, routinely adjusting his position to get comfy again. Its possible he senses a wardrobe malfunction not wanting the camera to catch on. Hands folded on the desk,tie knotted to perfection,shirt collars crisp,cuffs exposed to just the right length,left ankle crossed over right,Lemon is reliving his elementary school class picture with Sister Mary Benedict. Fashionably ahead of his fellow CNN hosts, he works hard at not profiling the same style too often. One wonders if he hangers his socks with matching shoes in labeled California Closet compartments. Lemon's fashion sense outweighs his common sense with more emphasis on vanity than news important to everyday Americans.
Over a 20 year career Lemon really was a good journalist with award winning work coming before the ten pm slot at CNN. Years ago he did solid work hosting CNN Weekends while living in Atlanta. He has a precise skill set knowing how to ask questions with genuine interest in answers. He follows up with better questions developing rapport with his guest and increasing interest for the viewer. For a long time,Don Lemon used a inquisitive,curious even nosy way of interviewing. It was like watching a young boy-- wanting to grow into a man-- asking life questions of his Dad.
With media arrogance,Page Six coverage of his personal life, and a fat CNN contract Lemon became a uptown Manhattan resident with a three million dollar Sag Harbor second home,part of the Hamptons safe zone for media out of touch with everyday Americans. His-I'm in touch with America-delusion recurs nightly. Dropping celebrity names,raising a gay or black issue,bullet pointing his upbringing (“I'm from from Louisiana,a red state,lived near a sugar cane plant,raised by a single mom and grandmother with only sisters”),Sugar Cane Don rapid fires this once relevant theme on guests who answers point to his leaning tower of media arrogance,and his shows lack of news important to everyday Americans. From CNN's Columbus Circle studio to his Harlem condo and Sag Harbor retreat, Lemon tries to convince viewers he can still smell syrup from the sugar cane plant.
CNN guests feel Lemon pushing back hard when not answering questions he claims are asked with vowel perfection and clarity. If he thinks a guest is spinning the answer--Sugar Cane Don becomes Badgering Don. He badgers the guest offender for not answering the question he asked giving them a second chance at redemption. After the second asking, repeat offenders usually give the same answer. Badgering Don intensifies to Erupting Don. The erupting third asking never gets the answer and starts the spewing-- a classroom style scolding leaving unclear what answer he's looking for. Fueling the scolding are memories of Sister Mary Benedict instructing little Don Lemon to go into the corner. His cursive P's weren't good enough. The offenders transgression is dismissed with Lemon reciting the inadequacy of the answer to a perfectly asked question. Politely he thanks the offender and moves on. Neither guest nor viewer can recall the point to it all. Badgering,eruption,spewing,politely say thank you. All in perfect order. He'll show Sister Mary Benedict about those P's.
CNN fact checks guests at the speed of light. Lemon warns would be offenders that factual push back can be painful on live TV. Recently Lemon was trying to frame a voter suppression story targeting North Carolina black communities. (SEE VIDEO BELOW) Since this is a black issue,Lemon finds time in his 500 weekly minutes for the story. For Lemon the 26 dead from Hurricane Matthew did not warrant time. NC-GOP party spokesman, Dallas Woodhouse asserted verifiable facts about early voting locations available in the state. Lemon did not like his guests answer and the never bashful Woodhouse challenged Lemon to fact check his statement. Lemon resorted to the Smirk-Jerk. The Smirk-Jerk is when Lemon doesn't like the offender guests answer and gives the facial smirk with cheekbones rising towards the eyebrows and a quick jerk of his perfect posture. (For reference the SJ- Smirk-Jerk is Lemons reaction when he dislikes the answer but knows its factually correct. Not to be confused with BESTY-Badgering,Eruption,Spewing,Thank You where Lemon thinks his perfectly asked question is being dismissed. SJ is a polite cerebral reaction,BESTY an impolite emotional fit)
Pressed by Woodhouse again and again Lemon chooses instead to say his next guest, the Rev Dr William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, a favorite wink and nod member of Lemon's choir—would provide truthful, possibly divine answers. Before the Reverend Dr. came on, Woodhouse was already off the split screen with Lemon bidding him thank you. The Reverend arrived on screen getting different questions, and leading him to the trough Lemon was drinking from. Of course there is black voter suppression in North Carolina. How could anyone think otherwise? Lemon,who is not dishonest,lazy,devious or deceptive,had a bad night. There is no-read between the lines-intended. Don Lemon is a good person. When a topic is near and dear to him, usually black or gay issues,he suspends the rules,and creates questions for dovetailing answers he knows guests will provide. You see Don Lemon believes intellectual cheating for the home team is different than cheating for the visitors. Sister Mary Benedict told him he can always ask for forgiveness.
Don Lemon has a reverence for Dan Rather. A frequent guest usually appearing late in the show, Rather is given plenty of latitude. With broad questions Lemon allows him to go on without interruption. It's a deference-respect-you make my show look good thing. And it works. Rather's a guy who hunted down leads and reported facts. Whether he was Liberal,Conservative,Democrat,Republican made no difference. He came from Cronkite. He's all you need to see to remember what journalism was. Rather reminds his host what kills the credibility of journalists is not returning back to neutral after digging out the facts.
Don Lemon can never be accused of being neutral. Most nights he finds ways of not being neutral. “How can Donald Trump talk to the black community about inner city issues without going directly to those communities?” Lemon laces his question with sarcasm floating the softball question while knowing the answer en route from his panelists. Angela Rye,Van Jones,Bakari Sellers,Charles Blow and others wear the choir robes in Lemon's ensemble. Like a 60's Doo Wop group,this is vocal and racial harmony at its best. To the viewer the question has an obvious answer. Trumps rally’s where held all over the country open and available to all.No invite necessary. Most streamed on social media and covered live by CNN,who it's assumed, has black viewers. Lemon however,seems to suggest that Trump needed some special instruction,some secret sauce to feed the black community. He contends black communities will not respond to someone talking about American issues outside the confines of a black church or a inner city community center. Time after time Lemon and the choir group chuckle at the thought Trump could get anywhere with his approach. He even suggested to Trump supporter Corey Lewandowski that Trump call him (Lemon) for tips. Deep down Lemon and the choir group may have a another concern. If Trump increases the Republican share of the black vote and increases black confidence, it would threaten the very narrative and livelihood of so many like Al Sharpton,Rowland Martin,Van Jones,Bakari Sellers,Marc Lamont Hill,Charles Blow and shows like Tom Joyner where Lemon is a contributor. Again,Lemon is not dishonest,lazy,devious or deceptive. Don Lemon is a good person. He is however culpable for his part in the media missing the election results,and dismissing with arrogance, the importance of 26 people dying in North Carolina from Hurricane Matthew.
It's Friday at midnight and Lemon's 500 minutes are in the can. His journalism is dead. Don Lemon is driving from Harlem to the Hamptons no longer smelling syrup from the sugar cane plant and far away from news important to everyday Americans.