Don Lemon example of misguided priorities
By Ron Wynn
When Don Lemon joined CNN in 2006, many in the Black community were pleased. The thinkng was perhaps the network had finally found another strong Black male figure like the great Bernard Shaw. Shaw could speak with distinction on all issues, was definitely a proud Black man, and was comfortable in any and every situation, both live and in the studio. Instead, eight years later, he's been far more of a disappointment than an inspiration, even as he now has a high profile spot as the co-anchor on "CNN Tonight," and also been on the scene at several major news stories.
Lemon was so far off the mark with his recent reporting and commentaries in Ferguson that he angered both the local community and co-anchor and reporter Van Jones. He and Jones visibly disagreed with each other on air, something networks never want to see, when Lemon began talking excessively about the supposed crimes of demonstrators.
He never bothered to mention or cite either police provocation or note that the vast majority of those participating had been peaceful. The young people involved in Ferguson organizing and protesting called him out by name as part of the inaccurate and distorted coverage that they saw as part and parcel of mainstream media. Jones stopped just short of calling him an "Uncle Tom" on air.
Then on Wednesday Lemon clashed on air with another guest, this time PBS and PRI TV and radio host Tavis Smiley. He accused Smiley of not giving President Obama enough credit for his interview on race with BET. Lemon also claimed Smiley was being too harsh in saying the President wasn't being aggressive enough in dealing with issues of race and police misconduct. Smiley responded by accusing Lemon of trying to court favor with CNN's largely white audience, adding he found it ridiculous that Lemon and others were urging patience by Blacks in light of what had been happening in Ferguson and NYC.
Lemon's commentaries on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" have been all over the map, but many of them are very similar to the accusatory rhetoric of conservative Black figures. There's plenty of emphasis on "personal responsibility," but not nearly as many indictments of systemic racism and injustice.
Yet Lemon has never been that timid when it comes to attacking homophobia in either the Black or white communities, and no question that is a problem. But it's interesting he seems to be so willing to urge patience when it comes to dealing with racism and police misconduct, but wants immediate action when it comes to homophobia and Gay Rights.
Some of this is no doubt due to his being fearful of being deemed by his CNN superiors as overly militant or expressing a so-called "Black" viewpoint on air. This was one of the things that ultimately cost Roland Martin his spot on CNN, along with being embroiled in a controversy over alleged anti-Gay remarks in a tweet that eventually got Martin a 30-day suspension.
He was also tagged in some quarters as an apologist for the President, and all these things dovetailed into him not having his CNN contract renewed. That actually may have been the best thing that happened to Martin, who parlayed that independence into a slot as the anchor on the Radio/TV One morning newscast, the nation's only one geared toward Black listeners and viewers.
The fact Lemon is in such a prominent position is another problem with the media. Today, there are few prominent Black commentators like former "Today" show pundit Chuck Stone. Stone was a fiery, non-nonsense type who was on the air in the mornings pushing for social justice, economic fairness and an end to racism decades before the advent of cable news or the Internet. He was also a trained, experienced journalist, not a pundit or entertainment figure. It's a sad thing to say there aren't many Chuck Stone types around now, especially not on the networks.
The top broadcast journalists like Lester Holt, Robin Roberts and Tamron Hall tend to be anchor or host types. All are excellent at what they do, and from time to time, when pushed or if the subject occurs within a show or newscast, they will be very vocal when it comes to racial issues.
But the nature of their job calls for a generic approach. Likewise, there are Black voices on shows like "The View," and "The Talk" who are willing to express opinions with vigor and candor on all subjects, race included. But these personalities are also judged by overall charisma and the likeable factor, and no broadcast network will keep anyone on air if its perceived the audience has abandoned or become hostile to them.
MSNBC is probably the closest in terms of having strong Black anchor/pundit personalities on its airwaves. Rev. Al Sharpton has plenty of detractors as well as admirers, but his weekday show has proven a good source for news and information regarding social justice and political movement activities.
Melissa Harris-Perry's weekend show is another good source, if at times an overly academic one, for stimulating discussion and examination of difficult social questions. Tavis Smiley's PBS show jumps back and forth between politics and entertainment, serious issues and standard celebrity interviews, but his radio show remains pretty much devoted to critical social topics. Then there are several syndicated caller types, most notably Joe Madison on Sirius XM radio.
Still, as a CNN anchor and "Tom Joyner Morning Show" commentator, Don Lemon has a bigger platform and the kind of implied gravitas and reputation that a standard pundit or a talk show contributor doesn't have. So far, he's spent more time using that platform to downplay the impact of systemic racism and government neglect, while over-emphasizing what he sees as failures within the Black community and among individuals.
Not that Blacks are perfect. or that the faults within our own areas shouldn't be exposed and spotlighted. But it is silly to pretend sagging pants are a bigger problem than the loss of jobs, or that Black-on-Black crime means police misconduct and brutality should be overlooked.
Don Lemon has risen to stardom and fame in part by minimizing his links and connection to the Black community, and that's certainly his right and choice. But there's no reason if he's going to take that posture and attitude he should then profit from association with a forum dedicated to those very same people. Smiley was pressured to leave "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" because he was deemed inhospitable to the President and thus became increasingly unpopular among the show's audience.
It's hard to believe Don Lemon's stances and rhetoric haven't reached a similar point at this juncture. Tom Joyner should seriously think about having some other Black journalist out there provide commentaries for his show in the near future. Lemon may say something soon that will further erode both his already sinking reputation and the program's credibility among the audience it's empowered to serve.