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Dumb Lemon

Bruce Bawer

It’s hard to dislike Don Lemon, but I’ve managed it. He’s articulate and bright-eyed and presentable and charming, and he exudes an attribute that it is easy to mistake for naive, youthful earnestness. For the longest time, I assumed he was about thirty years old. In fact I found out the other day that he’s fifty-one.

Fifty-one! When I found out that he was that old, I realized that what I had taken for naive, youthful earnestness was out-and-out fatuity. That look of wide-eyed youth is, in fact, the look of a middle-aged man who has spent his life in front of cameras and never accumulated much knowledge – and certainly very little in the way of wisdom – about the complex, challenging world beyond the big-city TV studios.

This, of course, puts him in good company at CNN, where the authoritative delivery and on-camera skills of the likes of Wolf Blitzer and Becky Anderson go a long way toward covering up their staggering obtuseness and ignorance. As Donald Trump himself put it, in his typically subtle fashion, in a tweet on August 10, 2016: “Don Lemon is a lightweight — dumb as a rock.”

Lemon has apparently never studied anything other than journalism. Until landing at CNN in 2006, he spent his career bouncing, as in Ted Baxter’s back story on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, from one local TV news operation to another – working as a weekend anchor here, a co-anchor there.

There’s a reason why in Britain they call people like him “news readers” and not anchors or journalists – all they do, after all, is sit there and read aloud copy that (usually) other people have written. To call a guy like Lemon a journalist is to insult innumerable men and women around the world who, in exchange for small fractions of the kind of salary made by a Don Lemon, are courageously risking their lives in autocratic countries and war zones and regions controlled by drug lords out of a sheer determination to discover and report the truth.

In a discussion with a guest about gun control, Lemon said he had been able to buy an automatic weapon in Colorado; the guest asked him about the gun in question and ascertained that it was, in fact, a semi-automatic. Lemon didn’t know the difference. (This kind of mistake is, of course, common among journalists who have strong opinions about gun control but who obviously know nothing about guns.)

Lemon dismissed his guest’s correction, calling it a matter of mere “semantics.” The guest, knowing better, pointed out that he was talking about “the difference between breaking the law and not breaking the law.”

Interviewing Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee (a black man), who was assailing cop-killers and challenging Lemon’s claim that cops were deliberately killing blacks across the U.S. in disproportionate numbers, Lemon, by way of skirting the facts, acted as if Clarke was out of control, and kept telling him, in a condescending way, to calm down and be “civil.” It was a cheap, insulting, and transparent way of avoiding the plain and simple truth.

Then, this past New Year’s Eve, Lemon, reporting from a New Orleans bar, was clearly drunk and saying inappropriate things to other bar guests. At one point, he started to unbutton his shirt and show off his chest; his co-host had to physically restrain him from doing so.

He’s so petty and self-important that back in 2012 he tweeted out an insult directed at actor Jonah Hill for his supposed impoliteness when they ran into each other in a hotel. “Think he thought i was bellman,” wrote Lemon – apparently unable, even with his great success, to avoid seeing himself as a victim of racism. Hill replied: “i walked out of the restroom and found you waiting for me. Shook hands, said hi and was on my way. Sorry if you found that rude.”

Lemon’s latest display of dopiness came after President Trump put on his hugely entertaining show in Phoenix last week. Like many other reporters, Lemon chose to go with the relatively new MSM line that Trump is mentally unbalanced, perhaps on the verge of senility. But Lemon went even further than most of his colleagues, delivering a speech of his own that went entirely beyond the proper ambit of his job as anchorman.

“I’m just going to speak from the heart here,” Lemon began, staring solemnly into the camera. Sorry, Don, that’s not your role. “He’s unhinged. It’s embarrassing. … His speech was without thought. It was without reason. It was devoid of facts. It was devoid of wisdom. There was no gravitas. There was no sanity there.”

In fact Trump’s performance was not meant to be wise or grave or solemn. He can do that, and has done it, and had in fact done it the previous day at Fort Myer, when he unveiled his new Afghanistan strategy. In Phoenix he was doing something else, and his audience there understood exactly what he was doing.

Like Lemon, Trump was speaking from the heart. He was unloading his frustrations on his supporters, whom he likes to talk to – and joke with – as if they were close friends.

They feel this intimacy, and respond to it in kind. They had eight long years of Obama’s fake gravitas, his ersatz wisdom, his patronizing pontification. They experience Trump’s frank talk, by comparison, as a breath of fresh air, a gust of honesty. They actually feel a connection to the man whom they put in the Oval Office and who – as he always remembers, and they always remember, but Lemon & co. always forget – works for them.

Lemon accused Trump of being thrown off balance by “circumstances beyond his control and beyond his understanding.” Now, whatever you may think of Trump, it’s nothing less than outrageous for someone like Lemon to pretend that he, a TV talking head, has a deeper understanding of anything (except perhaps lighting and makeup) than a self-made billionaire who, in the face of complex challenges and ruthless competition, created one of the nation’s most successful businesses – and who, thanks principally to his own impressive grasp of the problems facing the U.S. and the concerns plaguing the American electorate, managed to become the first person ever to become president without a political or military background.

In 2014, Lemon racked up a notable achievement: he made the Columbia Journalism Review‘s list of individuals who had committed the worst journalism of the year. The CJR cited his coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Lemon had actually asked a guest from the Department of Transportation whether the plane might have been “swallowed up by a black hole,” as on the TV series Lost. The guest, unsurprisingly, was at a loss for words. CNN honcho Jeff Zucker was not. He offered Lemon some sage, succinct counsel: “Don’t be an idiot.”

Alas, one might as well tell him not to be black or male or gay.

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