And that’s putting it mildly.
After a while, it stopped surprising us that his perspective on some of the issues that plague the black community always came out of left field. The man just had a knack for rubbing black folk the wrong way.
Please holla if you feel me.
But a recent encounter and some pretty cool “upgrades” seem to be somewhat encouraging for the man we love to h*te…uh, disagree with.
For example, Lemon expected the worst when he was recognized by a viewer in Harlem recently; but lo and behold, what he thought had the potential of a beat-down, was actually quite a compliment.
“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.
Moreover, Lemon’s bosses apparently favor his controversial nature, because they have been rewarding him with more airtime, increasing his visibility this spring through coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane and other stories, and he is a frequent host of the 10 p.m. EDT news hour.
The 48-year-old news anchor’s 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.
But it was Lemon’s support of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s criticism of blacks that pissed African Americans to the core. 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.
Not so much that the statement is totally untrue, but for many, it was just one more example of Lemons’ focusing on the symptom, not the problem; and that triggered strong disagreement from people like entrepreneur Russell Simmons – who responded in an open letter.
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.”
Some feel that Lemon reacts to symptoms rather than to the causes of problems in the black community; which was a comment made by Eric Deggans, author of “Race Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.”
“I’ve always felt that Don was an under appreciated anchor, and was afraid that he’d be another one of those black anchors at CNN who hasn’t seemed to stick around,” Deggans said. “I’m really glad that CNN values him enough to put him in prime time because I think it’s important.”
CNN has no problem with Lemon’s opinions, so long as he’s not predictably partisan. Janelle Rodriguez, vice president of programming at CNN U.S., said Lemon talks to viewers instead of talking down to them.
“Having a personality is a positive attribute,” Rodriguez said.
And Lemon’s coming out has not raised eyebrows as much as some may have thought either. In fact, he wasn’t sure he would reveal that fact before sending his manuscript to CNN’s standards and practices department for review. And though the company didn’t try to stop him, they did warn him to be prepared for the attention.
Attention that seemed only to come from Rush Limbaugh, who used it as a response to being called a “stunt king” by Lemon, because of comments the radio commentator made about Donald Sterling.
Limbaugh made sure his rebuttal included the fact that Lemon “sleeps with men, proudly.”
Talking openly about his sexuality and being abused as a child has made him free to put more of himself into his work, Lemon said.
“For me, personally, it’s been empowering,” he said, “and I can’t go back.”
Read more about Don Lemon at Huffington Post.