CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon was the subject of a lengthy profile.
About his schedule:
Don Lemon has a fitness tracker that he wears on his wrist, and he uses it for sleep monitoring. He’s a lifelong insomniac, and his work schedule—hosting CNN Tonight at 10 P.M.—doesn’t make things easier. Also he’s dating someone now, a lawyer who understands his schedule, and it’s going well—they spent Valentine’s Day at a concert by the gay country singer Steve Grand—and there aren’t enough hours in the day, are there? He shows me the tracker’s attendant iPhone app, and his sleep patterns are impressive in a bad way: three hours sixteen minutes here, four hours there, two hours just a couple of nights ago. And that’s total sleep, not what the device calls “restful” sleep. In the weeks of data he shows me, the total never goes above six hours.
This affable bluntness might help explain why he is so ascendant at CNN. His ratings are pretty close to Anderson Cooper’s numbers at 8 P.M., and they have already eclipsed those of Piers Morgan, who was on at 9 P.M. until, mercifully, he wasn’t.
The Don Lemon phenomenon:
As far as I can tell, the great Don Lemon gaffe-spotting fest that has become such an Internet phenomenon and journalistic pastime began on July 27, 2013, and it began not with a gaffe but with an unexpected rant about racial mores. He was anchoring the weekend desk, and he played a clip of that bastion of modernity and multicultural wisdom, Bill O’Reilly, explaining everything that’s wrong in the black community. This was shortly after the George Zimmerman trial, and rather than lash out at O’Reilly, Lemon claimed that he hadn’t gone far enough. He then addressed “black people” with his own list of solutions: (5) Pull up your pants. (4) Stop using the N-word. (3) Stop littering. (“I’ve lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods in my life. I rarely, if ever, witness people littering.”) (2) Finish school. (“Stop telling kids they’re acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English.”) (1) “Just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should.”
Zucker’s Malaysia play:
Soon his platform grew. In March 2014, Malaysian Flight MH370 disappeared. He got the call that network president Jeff Zucker wanted to use the 10 P.M. slot for a nightly one-hour special to discuss new theories about where the hell that plane went, and he wanted Don Lemon to host it. (Good cocktail-party trivia: Nightline began the same way—a nightly update on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that became a TV-news institution.)
Don the lightning rod:
“Let me put it this way,” says Jeff Zucker. “There’s certainly a lot of interest in Don Lemon, and that’s a good thing for Don and for CNN. You know, Don is a little bit of a lightning rod. Frankly, we needed a little bit of lightning.”
Keep going, keep talking:
Lemon’s executive producer, Jonathan Wald, told me that “none of the alleged dings at Don’s performance have hurt his credibility or his appeal.” Lemon’s gift, Wald says, is “having a conversation, and that’s really the guts of this show.” It’s the mantra of all of CNN: Keep going, keep talking. People don’t walk out on conversations.
“When you’re a network-news anchor, you have a twenty-two-minute news hole, and you read not even five minutes of copy, if you read that much,” Lemon tells me. “When you’re a cable-news host, you’re on for hours and hours and hours live. Right? Sometimes there’s nothing in that box, no words.”
You can read the full profile at GQ.