Opinionated Don Lemon Breaking Out at CNN
CNN’s Don Lemon braced himself after being recognized by a viewer on a Harlem street.
"I don’t always agree with you," the person began, ominously. "But keep it up. I’m not always supposed to agree with you."
Lemon could think of no sweeter compliment. The 48-year-old news anchor has attracted attention by adding his opinion to stories he’s telling. His bosses are rewarding him with more airtime, and his visibility has increased this spring through coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane and other stories. He frequently hosts the 10 p.m. EDT news hour.
His decision to speak out traces directly to coming out publicly as gay in a memoir published three years ago.
Last week while moderating a discussion with four women on the firing of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, Lemon said he didn’t believe in equal pay for equal work in all circumstances - the verbal equivalent of sticking his head in a lion’s mouth. He denounced Florida’s "stand your ground" law in coverage of a trial involving it. He offered troubled pop star Chris Brown advice "from one black man to another" in a segment on Tom Joyner’s radio show.
No incident attracted more attention than when Lemon said he agreed with some criticism of blacks by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. Young black men should think about pulling up their pants, staying in school, not using the n-word, not having children out of wedlock and taking interest in their communities, Lemon said.
That provoked a response from entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who wrote an open letter saying, "I can’t accept that you would single out black teenagers as the cause of their own demise because they don’t speak the King’s English or wear belts around their waistbands."
Lemon said he knew that he would get a reaction, and that it was important to start a conversation.
"What surprised me was how many people would be taking it out of context and trying to turn it into something that it was not, that it was a criticism of African-Americans to tell them how to act, that it had something to do with racism," he said. "That had nothing to do with racism. That was self-empowerment."