The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove makes a mealy mouthed defense of Don Lemon…
Don Lemon relentlessly courts controversy whether it’s his reporting from Ferguson, or driving around in his ‘Blizzardmobile.’ Is his natural home Fox News, rather than CNN?
This is a strawman issue. It isn’t about whether Don Lemon courts controversy or not. Most anchors will get embroiled in controversy at one point in their careers…some more than once. No, this is about whether Lemon is a loose cannon who shoots from the hip yet still manages to wing himself and whether the dubious spectacles he’s known for overshadow anything positive he does and all this reflects badly upon his network.
Last week Lemon rose above (or, many would say, dived below) the media morass by roving the barren, snow-dusted streets of Manhattan while anchoring his 10 p.m. weeknight show, CNN Tonight, in his “Blizzardmobile”—never mind that there was no blizzard in New York City, unless one counts the blizzard of ridicule heaped upon Lemon for his wacky stunt.
As far as Don’s “Lemon-isms” go, this one doesn’t even qualify. It was orchestrated by CNN’s producers, not Lemon. And Lemon wasn’t the only CNN reporter running around in a vehicle. But, even though it doesn’t apply, it got shoe-horned into an already established pattern; a pattern best characterized as “put brain into park, then act” which is what he is increasingly becoming typecast for.
Consider for a moment what has transpired for Lemon in less than a year:
– The MH 370 Black Hole gaffe
– The Ferguson “Marijuana in the air” non-sequitur
– The penis biting defense
– The rest of the interview the penis biting defense was a part of
– The tweeting of a selfie of a shot scar that had absolutely nothing to do with the Measles while calling it a Measles shot.
All of these things Grove argues make Lemon a cable news star, which I suppose is as much an indictment of cable news in Grove’s eyes as it is a selling point for Lemon (I’ll ignore Grove tossing a very backhanded compliment at FNC as a good destination for Lemon to fit in at). The cynic in me would agree on a certain rudimentary level but an overriding question lingers: is it in CNN’s best interest to let these oxygen sucking incidents continue to undermine whatever the network thinks it can get out of Lemon? My answer would be it is not and CNN needs to sit Lemon down and tell him to dial it back.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if Lemon, as Rivera famously did, hosted something like a live program in which he opened Al Capone’s vault; of course, when Rivera attempted that trick in 1986, the vault was embarrassingly empty except for worthless flotsam and jetsam.
Like Rivera, who is proudly a member of two traditionally liberal minorities—Puerto Rican and Jewish—Lemon likes to spout counter-intuitively conservative beliefs with which even a white Mike Huckabee supporter might agree.
So I like to think of Lemon as Geraldo 2.0.
Rivera would be an “in the ballpark” analogy to Lemon in some ways but, and I’ve said this before, there is a more apt 1:1 analogy: Rick Sanchez.
Consider the Rick Sanchez M.O…
Brazen, center of the universe on air persona: check.
Injects himself into the interview: check.
Belief that whatever outrageous thing he does on TV is all good: check
Inability to fall on his sword when he screws up: check (*)
Gets into off-air disputes and then invites the combatant on air to hash it all out again: check
Uses himself as guinea pig for segments: check
* Sanchez did fall on his sword for the thing that got him bounced off CNN. But it was the exception and not the rule.
A lot these traits are shared with Rivera but Rivera has a well documented tendency to lash out viciously when he thinks he’s been victimized, whether said victimization is real or not, which is something neither Sanchez nor Lemon display. And that’s ulimately why I say Lemon is Sanchez 2.0 and not Rivera 2.0.
According to people who work with him, he has managed to avoid a diva-like reputation
I know a lot of people who have never met the guy and don’t know him personally who would say otherwise based solely on how Lemon has conducted himself on the air. You don’t have to be a diva in reality to still look like a diva on TV.
Yet he has a thick skin and, apparently, a self-deprecating sense of humor. After Jon Stewart skewered the Blizzardmobile—and suggested that if Lemon wasn’t careful, he’d end up toiling in a real Blizzardmobile, that is, a Dairy Queen truck—Lemon posted as his Facebook profile picture the Daily Show’s photo-shopped image of himself serving shakes and ice cream.
Another thing one would associate with Sanchez.
And he could comfort himself with the knowledge that his much-derided hour on the snowy streets of New York beat the competition in the all-important 25-54 demographic—including Fox News.
Not the best argument because at that hour CNN was providing the best coverage at the time, and would have whether the blizzardmobile was featured or not.
CNN needs to make up its mind. It has two Don Lemon’s to choose from…
On one hand we have Don Lemon, serious journalist. Yes, Don Lemon is indeed a serious journalist. Lemon has done some good reporting and interviewing in his time at CNN. He has brought up some important topics for discussion which one does not normally see discussed because they are such lightning rod 3rd rail issues.
On the other hand we have Don Lemon, self-caricature. This Lemon is the problem. This Lemon undermines the other one. This Lemon gives CNN a black eye and detracts from what its trying to accomplish. When your network works hard on a story and the big headline from said story is the latest gaffe your gaffe prone star made, you have a big optics problem.
However this Lemon has a co-conspirator; Jeff Zucker. After the cruise ship coverage controversy Zucker defended it, ostensibly because it got ratings and buzz. He kept sending Martin Savidge back into that damn simulator long past the point it was of much benefit in advancing the story narrative, ostensibly because it got ratings and buzz. That is Zucker’s mission; to get CNN ratings and buzz. He’s trying to right the ship out of the ratings basement and he’s succeeding at it, albeit because of an unintended and totally unexpected yet most welcome assist from Phil Griffin. Right now he’s not being very picky about how it gets those ratings and buzz. And this second Lemon has been allowed to continue on in CNN’s universe because of that when if you look at Lemon’s “greatest mishits” I outlined earlier, most network news Presidents would be dialing back his exposure level and telling him to think about the optics more.
But the second Lemon is eclipsing the first Lemon now. The cumulative effect of all these incidents piling up makes for a pretty convincing argument that Lemon is indeed a loose cannon at the network. And Zucker is going to have to do something if he wants to save the first Lemon…the one that benefits his network.