CNN’s Don Lemon addressed his evolution as journalist at the live streamed Promax Conference Tuesday, saying he reports from “experience.”
“People wonder if I’ve changed as a journalist,” he told The Hollywood Reporter’s Nekesa Mumbi Moody in conversation during the conference. “I mean, I’ve always been the same person. I’ve always had the same experiences. It’s just that now, I think, I feel more comfortable in what I do. I think I’ve evolved. And people — that happens to anyone who lives. If you live long enough, you’re gonna evolve, right? If you do a job long enough, you become more comfortable at it. You become better at it. Being a person, a black man — let’s put it this way: being an American who happens to be Black, who happens to be gay, from the south, I have a certain lens that I view the world through and that’s not necessarily a bias. That’s my experience.”
He pointed out that his recent coverage of coronavirus and the unrest over systemic racism in the country — which he sees as two “related” stories, not different ones — is a good example of his evolution.
“I have had positive interactions with the police, for the most part, when they know who I am, but I’ve also had some very interesting and not-so-positive interactions with police officers, especially before I became ‘the guy on CNN,’” he explained, “and when they don’t realize that I’m ‘the guy on CNN,’ when they finally figured it out. This is all very relatable to me, so if I can’t give my point of view, and speak through the experiences that I have had as a man of color who is lived on this earth for more than 50 years, who happens to have this platform, then when am I going to do it? I’d be derelict in my duty as a journalist and derelict in my duty as an American if I didn’t speak to those issues with honesty.”
Covering the unrest has been surreal for him, he said after Moody said she’s noticed him “bring more” of himself to his broadcasts and his new CNN podcast, “Silence Is Not an Option.”
“There was a moment that was surreal to me where I felt like I was watching myself do the news,” he said, referencing unrest in American cities after the death of George Floyd. He described sitting alone in the studio, feeling that it was just him against the world.
“It was like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. I was like Don Lemon watching Don Lemon do the news and I was just wondering, ‘Is anybody out there? Are you guys seeing what’s happening with our country? How do we get to this point?’ And either I had to keep it together or just lose it because it was so overwhelming.”
He blamed a lack of leadership and referenced President Donald Trump, though not by name, bringing up Trump’s infamous quote about “very fine on both sides” during a clash between white nationalists and protesters in 2017 that left one protester dead.
“When people don’t exactly know what truth is, when our institutions are being attacked, when journalism is being attacked, when someone is saying that there’s very fine people on both sides — there’s not very fine people on both sides when you’re talking about racism and Neo Nazis. Either you are a racist or you’re not, and so I think, in this moment, journalists realize that we have to step up and we have to call out the lies and the B.S. and it has nothing to do with objectivity,” he said.