For better or for worse, Don Lemon has become the recognized face of CNN, writes Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast.
Say what you will about Don Lemon—and clearly there’s no stopping you—but he has swiftly become, if not the face of CNN, then one of the more recognizable figures on the “Go there” cable news outlet.
In recent months, the smooth-faced anchor, who looks at least a decade more cherubic than his 48 years, has differentiated himself from the pack and dominated YouTube with such memorable moments as: demanding of an incredulous Muslim-American civil rights lawyer whether he supports ISIS; asking one of Bill Cosby’s alleged sexual abuse victims why she didn’t simply bite the comedian’s penis; exclusively detecting the smell of marijuana—“obviously”—during a protest of the grand jury verdict in Ferguson, Missouri (where he also engaged in a live on-air bickerfest with a rap performer who challenged the fairness of CNN’s coverage); and otherwise offered himself up as a human lightning rod to an army of detractors poised to strike.
The august Columbia Journalism Review, for one, featured Lemon near the top of its list of “the worst journalism of 2014.” And that didn’t even include Lemon’s most famous foray into hot-button hubbub in July 2013, when he used his TV perch to lecture his fellow African-Americans on the importance of not letting their trousers sag below their underwear, not uttering the n-word, not littering in their neighborhoods, not dropping out of school, and not having babies out of wedlock. That one prompted a collective conniption.
Arguably, this is not the sort of public relations strategy with which one burnishes a sterling résumé that ultimately leads to an endowed professorship at a graduate school of journalism. Yet, in an era when personal brands are increasingly trumping institutional ones, Lemon—shrewdly or not—has transcended his workaday platform.
In this respect, he’s a bit like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly—who tend to make every story about themselves—but he is more closely a descendent of Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera, a former activist lawyer and local Eyewitness News star who has spent the past 44 years tirelessly reporting on the ongoing Drama of Geraldo.
Lemon, who joined CNN’s Atlanta center in 2006 after a career at local stations in New York and Philadelphia and even NBC, has surely established himself among a coterie of CNN franchise players who include Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour, and Anderson Cooper.
According to people who work with him, he has managed to avoid a diva-like reputation and has proved himself game for anything—whether doing live shots from the scene of the Asian tsunami, working the red carpet at the New York premiere of Selma, hopping into the Blizzardmobile, or, as he did on Monday afternoon, going on other people’s shows to discuss the sad medical emergency befalling Whitney Houston’s daughter.
Needless to say, I doubt some of his cohorts (to use the example above: Blitzer, Amanpour, and Cooper) like when he makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.
You can read Grove’s full piece, Turning Lemon into Lemonade, at the Daily Beast.