CNN’s Don Lemon recently became a sweetheart of visitors to social news website Reddit after appearing in a segment on The Colbert Report and being profiled on the Daily Show. In the latter segment, Jon Stewart pays homage to Lemon’s disdain for the sort of newsy pablum networks sometimes use to flesh out an hour.
Reddit users (“Redditors,” in their parlance) subsequently sought an audience with Lemon, who, this morning, logged in to the site to answer their questions. Some of the more interesting exchanges are below.
Question from MandMandMvac:
Is that your real name?
Yes. But my first news director asked me to change my name and I said no way, Don Lemon is easy to remember.
Question from jimmy_mc:
Hi Don, How does it feel to push one side of the news and include yourself in the heaps of political posturing, asinine controversy and other news reporters who clearly have no passion for the job? Do you feel as though your dying breed will survive? And what do you need to do to bring integrity to CNN?
I don’t want to give you the standard, ‘well we always have to remain objective blah, blah, blah.” Obviously I try to remain objective. But i’m also a human being. And I think it’s important to think and ask questions like a regular person and not a ‘journalist’. I don’t think i’m a dying breed. But i do have to say i think the bulk of passionate journalists are coming from alternative places today like social media and internet radio etc. They have a freedom of thought and transparency that many of us don’t in traditional media. I don’t think i need to bring integrity back to CNN. CNN never lost integrity. I just think CNN can be better at reaching people like Redditors. And that’s one reason i’m here. i’m ‘that guy’.
Question from prwlr:
It’s a twofer: Is it hard to separate personal political convictions from the objective persona most anchors put on? Is there a congressperson that is particularly intimidating when it comes to interviews? Thanks!
It’s not hard for me to separate it. I’m probably one of the most objective people you’ll meet. Also, I don’t associate with any political party so that makes it even easier. Politicians are politicians and politics are politics. That’s the story on that. To answer the 2nd part of your question, I’m not intimidated by anyone. The only person who came close to intimidating me was Stephen Colbert. I knew his character from tv, but when we started to really have a conversation I realized that he’s not the character and it kinda caught me off guard. I said to my self, I know the character but I really don’t know the man. So I had to readjust quickly.
Question from devils0508:
Do you feel that the media is too interested in presenting both sides of the story, and not enough in actually discerning the facts (perhaps due to fear of seeming unbiased)? For example, in the debt ceiling debate, one side was much more extremist/irrational/dangerous than the other, but I didn’t really see this highlighted in the mainstream media.
To the first part of your question- Yes. Though it may grab your attention like a car wreck, I don’t think people yelling at each other on tv is productive. Keeping people on target and to the facts encourages the viewer to do his or her own critical analysis. Arguing usually serves to promote or reinforce ideology or opinion. And that applies to the debt ceiling story currently in the headlines.
Question from phoenixfenix:
How much input do the anchors have in what news is presented? Could you write your own piece? Could you refuse to cover a story (for religious, political, or other reasons)? How far in advance do you know what you are presenting for the day?
The anchor input depends on the anchor and the show. I have a ton of input. I insist on it. Some producers don’t really like it but that’s too bad. At the end of the day it’s my face and reputation. I do write my own pieces. I can refuse to cover a story but that comes with the possibility of getting disciplined by the company I work for. I did question and refuse to cover a story when I worked in Chicago. I got a lot of flack for it. But it’s ok. It taught me a lesson, made me stronger and more savvy about how to refuse a story without management even knowing it. Sometimes I have days even weeks to research a story. Sometimes, like this weekend with the debt ceiling, you just go in the air and follow the breaking news, no teleprompter, no scripts, just a laptop and my producer in my ear.
When asked to elaborate on the story he responded:
Remember, local news reporters cover a different story every night, sometimes several. So, I don’t really remember the exact details of the story. And it’s not that I refused the story. There’s a long back story. But, there had been some discussion in the newsroom and community about unfair coverage in minority neighborhoods. Why the news outlets chose to cover crime stories in one neighborhood and not another. This was one of those stories. I brought up the issue with producers and rather than answer my questions they told me they were sending another reporter. I said ok and that was the end of that.
Question from dE3L:
when did you first feel like “hey i have a knack for this news reporting stuff”?
I’ve known since I was a kid, but I didn’t really know what to call it. My mom says I asked A LOT of questions to anyone who would listen. I’d even go over to other people’s tables at restaurants. Guess I was ‘born this way’ or at least born to be a journalist.
In response to another question:
I’ve always wanted to be a reporter. But it didn’t play out like I thought. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my success but I thought I’d end up working for NBC for the rest of my life. When I was younger my goal was to anchor the today show. But as I matured that changed a bit and I ended up in a better place, at CNN. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can say there’s a best story I ever covered. There are some very memorable ones like 9-11, Obama inauguration, Michael Jackson’s death, Hurricane Katrina, the tornadoes in Alabama and on and on. I’m just lucky I get to work at a place where those stories come often. It keeps me passionate.
Question from Fillup231:
What do you think is the biggest news story out there that the mainstream media isn’t covering sufficiently?
Hmmm… That’s a tough one. But I have a few. The Rochester Police story with Emily Good, the women arrested in her front yard for videotaping police. The Canton, Ohio story where the cop is caught on tape berating and threatening a number of citizens. I’ve covered both on my newscasts. And quite frankly I think the story of the fire firefighter, Shannon Stone who fell to his death at the Texas Rangers baseball stadium. The tragedy has been well reported but not the follow up. Just about everyone I know has had a close call at a stadium. Most people drink at stadiums and have to ascend or descend steep steps or walk next to low rails. I think it’s time we take another look at how safe these venues really are. It’s an ‘it can happen to anyone’ story.
Question from shanezy:
I’m in J-School now (Ernie Pyle SOJ), what advice do you have for a current Journalism student?
Honestly, work hard.. be passionate.. trust your gut. All of those clichés are true. But don’t get into it because you think it’s glamorous. It’s not. It’s a lot of hard work and rejection. But if you believe in yourself it will no doubt pay off. Also remember this, my mom told it to me. If someone else did it, you can. And if no one’s done it you can be the first.
Question from All_Your_Base:
Not a troll, I really am curious: What is your opinion on Fox News? It gets bashed a lot, but I’d really to hear what an insider thinks about their “fair and balanced.” Also, what do you think about Al Jezeera English?
Obviously I prefer CNN. But there are some really great journalists at fox, and you have to admit that their hosts do great TV. No comment on the fair and balanced part.
Honestly, I really don’t know enough about al-jazeera to comment. They did contact me to work for them when they started their English network. But I was and am happy at CNN so it didn’t go any further. I think CNN does cover actual news. You have to remember CNN is compartmentalized. You probably watch a lot of CNN here in the states which we call CNN domestic. But there is CNN international, CNN En Espanol, CNN Turk, CNN Radio, CNN.com and on and on and on. We’re one of the biggest news organizations in the world and all we do is cover the news.
In response to a follow-up about the “fair and balanced” tagline:
I would hope that if you are going to say something that you actually believe it. And I’m sure the people who watch believe it too.
Asked if he might go to Al-Jazeera:
I never say never, but I don’t think I’ll be joining him anytime soon. I’m happy at CNN.
Question from authorial:
What would say to someone who says FoxNews and CNN essentially do the same thing?
I’d have to say you’re mistaken. CNN doesn’t carry a narrative. We report the news. We’re not perfect. No one is, and I tell you in complete honesty, we don’t lean one way or the other. We strive for true objectivity.
Question from Sum1t:
I understand that you guys are trying to reach out to audience across different age groups, but is it really that important to CNN what people on Twitter and Facebook are posting? Is it not more important what credible sources are saying?
I appreciate your comment. And I think there’s some truth to it.. but I think it’s also good to hear from everyday people. I’m not a big fan of talking heads and pundits. But I’m also not a fan of random tweets and emails. You’ve probably noticed I’ve cut back on using them. Twitter and facebook were like the new toy at Christmas at first and we had to figure out how to best utilize them. And I think we’re pretty quickly getting to that point.
Question from atypicalmale:
Are you 100% satisfied with how you handled Rand Paul recently? Do you feel that he wouldn’t have addressed the questions if he kept speaking?
I addressed that in my ‘no talking points’ #notalkingpoints segment. I think it’s important for people who are fortunate to have a national platform to speak directly to the American people to stick to ANSWER THE QUESTION and not give talking points or skirt the issue. If you don’t want to answer the question then say so. On that same day I asked a number of other politicians to not give talking points. Both democrats and republicans. I even asked the head of the tea party express the same thing. Amy Kremer and I had a great conversation. With the exception of Rand Paul, everyone stopped the partisan points and answered my questions directly. It’s in my nature to fight back, so I get it. But you have to pick your battles. And I think Rand Paul was battling someone (me) who’s not necessarily against him. I just wanted straight answers like the guy sitting at home in front of the tv who may be out of work and wondering if Washington gets where he’s coming from.
Question from Bham-Fox:
Don, I work at your old station in Birmingham. Don’t forget to show us some luv. :) What differences (Besides the deeper pockets) do you find behind the scenes at CNN compared to working under the shadow of Vulcan. :)
haha.. I had a lot of fun in Birmingham. Still remember the promo: ‘Don Lemon, part of Alabama’s 24 hour news team,’ ha!!!! To answer your question, it’s more than just deeper pockets, it’s a bigger venue and bigger thinkers. At CNN I literally get to see the world everyday. As I walk from my car to the newsroom to my office, I come in contact with people from just about every region of the world. My team’s pod (as we call it) in the newsroom is not far from the international desk. so, if I need to know what’s going on in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Mexico, London, Paris, Australia, ANYWHERE, I can just walk over and they know. And guess what, there’s someone there who speaks the language. It really is a world on to itself. It would be really tough to go back to local news or even another network after working in the CNN environment. Say hi to everyone atop red mountain in b’ham.
Question from richardoftheyear:
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being lamest) How Lame is Anderson Cooper’s ‘The Ridiculist’?
I have to be honest, I haven’t really seen the segment. I watch the show but I haven’t caught the segment. Sometimes his show is on in the background when I’m getting ready for bed etc. So I don’t get a chance to watch it from start to finish.
Question from fr0ng:
Why is MSM news so crappy? Do you wish you could do anything about it? Do you think the media is partially responsible for the dumbification of Americans today?
I wouldn’t use the word crappy myself. I think we all can improve. I think we (all news outlets) want to do good journalism at the end of the day. But many times we try to sell a product instead of work from our gut. I hope I’m doing something about that by remaining true to myself and the viewer. I have to be honest; I don’t think we do enough to make Americans even smarter. But we’re trying. I know I am, and CNN is as well, otherwise I wouldn’t work there, and I wouldn’t be answering your questions on this site.
Question from youdisturbme:
Do you consider yourself a news man or an entertainer?
Come on.. A news man. But sometimes as a news man you have to entertain. SOMETIMES. I pick my moments.
Question from WinterInJapan:
Is there an anchor or news correspondent that you’ve always admired?
Yes. Max Robinson, Peter Jennings, Bernie Shaw. I’m also a big Wolf Blitzer fan. Does the man ever sleep?
Question from Amuzed:
Is Wolf Blitzer a real person or does CNN have to charge his batteries overnight?
I’m wondering that too. I’ll have to discretely pat him on the back and see if there’s a battery pack in there. But I do know this, he’s a great guy and is one of my mentors here at CNN .
Question from zxcvb94105:
Do you agree with Lora Logan that American news is inferior to many international outlets, and, if so, what do you think could be done to change it?
I respect Lora. I’m not sure she said that.. But I think sometimes Americans think an accent makes a news presenter smarter or more aware. That’s not so. Also, we have the luxury here in the states to focus on many things at once. So just because entertainment may creep into the news cycle sometimes, it doesn’t mean that our news organizations are inferior. And again, with respect to Ms. Logan, she works for an American news organization.
Question from Pigs101:
I took a tour of CNN’s headquarters last year. Being in such close proximity to you guys while on air was really cool. Whats the most awkward thing a tourist has gestured to you through the glass?
Yikes.. a lot of fun things happen.. I usually start the wave with the tour groups. One woman saw me and started jumping up and down and obviously she wasn’t wearing any support up top. And just last week this woman freaked out and started kissing the glass so I went over and kissed back. I love the tour groups.
Question from OutaTowner:
What did you think about Jon Stewarts segment on you? That was pretty amazing. Go you for actually caring about the news instead of the stupid gimicks.
I was totally stunned by the Jon Stewart segment. I was watching the show with a friend and was tweeting about the prior segments. Then mine came on and we both said in unison, “uh oh.” Then I tweet ‘OMG’ and walked out of the room.. My friend said come back, watch it. I didn’t for about an hour and after I had 2 beers. Then once I watched I thought it was funny and complimentary. I just didn’t want to make my co-workers look like the brunt of the joke. But they understood and sent me nice emails. the truth is I love real news and my team knows it. We pride ourselves on gimmick-free news. In fact we ask ourselves when pitching ideas, ‘is this too gimmicky?’ And if the answer is yes, we drop it. I think the viewer may watch a gimmick for a while but then they catch on and tune out. It really is ok to be smart and present a smart newscast.
In response to another question asking how he ended up on Stewart and Colbert, Lemon wrote:
You’ll have to ask the folks over at comedy central. I have no connection to them. Colbert’s producers contacted me a few months back about the vampire segment. Stephen even called me personally to ask me to do it. It took some time to work it out with them and CNN but we did it. And the Stewart thing was just a coincidence. Funny story, after the Stewart thing aired, the next day Colbert’s producer sent me an email asking me if I was ready for this cause his segment was going to air the next night. I was floored. how cool was that?
Question from cc_1988:
Was Jon Stewart correct when he said you were bored doing inane news stories for CNN? Did you see that daily show episode several days ago?
Yes.. I do get bored with some of the inane stories but not just on CNN, and it’s my personality to say it. CNN allows me the freedom to do that. I did see the daily show episode. My bosses are well aware of my presence on Reddit. I only get bored when I’m not actually working on a story. No time to get bored in my workplace. Have you seen what’s happening in the world lately?
Question from galenblade:
I’m curious as to your general theory on news, given the recent Daily Show bit. Do you believe there’s a place for lighter stuff like the Hogwarts piece, or should places like CNN be solely devoted to commentary and breaking news?
My philosophy of news is to inform. The daily show bit was funny.. satire.. But as they say, the truth is often spoken in jest. So, of course there’s time for lighter stories. We all need a break and a laugh. But we have to pick our moments without being too cutesy. Funny and light is one thing. Cutesy and gimmicky are another.
Question from Appo123:
I am just entering my late 20s and still struggling with my sexuality. I’m still closeted and find it really hard to related to gays in my community. Do you have any advice for me?
(Lemon went public with his sexuality earlier this year.)
That’s a really good personal question. Know that you’re not alone. Come out of the closet when you feel comfortable and safe. But know that it’s never an easy thing to do at first. Then when you do it you’ll wonder why you hadn’t sooner. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to relate or like anyone just because they’re gay. You should relate to or like them because they’re a good person or you have something in common. You don’t have to hang out or befriend gay people just because you’re gay. I have a bunch of straight friends and some really gay ones too. It’s all good. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It all works itself out. Good luck.
Question from justice7:
Don, how do you feel about being one of the most prominent black male news anchors, and not only that; a gay male news anchor on cable news? How has this affected your career, and do you feel it has helped or hindered you to get where you are today?
Am I all those things you mentioned? I honestly have never thought of that. I don’t think of myself that way. My ego is not that big. I must admit that I am a non-conformist and sometimes a rebel. It’s just in my nature. But I don’t think of my ranking or standing in my profession etc. I am however respectful and grateful of the platform I’ve achieved that hopefully brings truth and knowledge to people who watch.
Question from asmallquietvoice:
How jaded and cynical have you become (if at all) working in the business? Or, were you aware to a degree what you would encounter?
I don’t think I’m jaded. I am a cynic. Always have been, the business is conducive to cynicism. I got into this business with my eyes open. I was almost 30 when I got my first full-time reporting job. So, i was old enough to know what I was getting into.
Question from universearight:
Can reporters actually wear more comfortable pants when behind the desk? Do you just have to look well-dressed from the waist up?
I used to wear shorts and a suit jacket all the time in local because I didn’t have to stand up and walk a lot. The most casual I get now is jeans. CNN anchors are often shown in full-body shots. No more shorts for me unless enough people demand it.
Question from Optimash_Prime:
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I’m a simple guy. I like to work in my yard. I like to swim, and I like to travel. But when I travel for pleasure I don’t want to sit on a plane for a long time cause I have to do it a ton for work. So I usually go some place that requires a short flight. Or I just vacation in my city.. NYC. Running clears my head every time. But most of all I LOVE to sleep!
Question from tjn225:
Don Lemon has the potential of becoming a great name for an alcoholic beverage. Answer me this, Don Lemon, what would you put in a “Don Lemon”?
Wow. That’s an awesome question. A lil vodka, some lemonade, a splash of sparkling water for bubbles and I’d stir it with one of my fingers. Aaahhh refreshing!
Question from pinstriped:
In the span of your career in the news biz, what was the one piece you’ve covered that had the most emotional, long lasting impact on you? Just one.
Africa. I went there on my own. With my own money. Shot it myself with a Columbia college student from Chicago. Then turned it into a special on the news when I returned. It was life altering. I write about it in my book.. and that’s not a shameless book plug.. I’m not even writing the title here.
Question from thechickabides:
One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on television happened during your interview of supporters of disgraced pastor Eddie Long. Did you know you were going to bring up your own history of abuse, or did it just happen? In a world that is so scripted and fake, it felt very genuine and authentic. Your honesty was heartbreaking and refreshing. I have worked with victims of child abuse and molestation, and I know that little boys have much less support than little girls. I know that little boys who have been victimized the world over looked at you in that moment and felt comforted by the fact that they could overcome their abuse, and they didn’t have to be ashamed. Kudos to you sir.
First of all thanks. It was completely organic. I had no idea I would say it. I think I said it because I had been writing about my own experience with abuse for my book. So it had been on my mind and it just came out. I ‘m glad you were comforted I have a fun book stack of responses from that moment. Thousands of people wrote me with similar comments to yours. I hope it made a difference.
Question from Unable2Stop:
Any real hope for our country?
Of course.. we’re America darn it!!!
And then there was this.
I don’t have a question, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for a story you did when you were in Philadelphia. It was Thanksgiving night, 2000. A group of families were returning from China with their newly adopted daughters, and you were there to cover the event. You interviewed our family, and we ended up making onto the 11:00 news. We were lucky enough to have some family members watching who recorded it for us, and to this day my family still watches that story every Thanksgiving. Thank you for doing such a fabulous job with the story, and for giving us a lifelong memory and tradition. Keep up the good work.
As Lemon continues his responses, we will update this thread.
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