On Saturday, CNN weekend anchor Don Lemon issued five warmed-over admonishments to the Black community in his No Talking Points segment. The “advice” began with, “Pull up your pants!” and ended with, “Stop having out-of-wedlock babies!” On Sunday, after claiming to be baffled by the Twitter backlash, he turned to pundits LZ Granderson and Ana Navarro for on-air backup. At one point, Lemon commiserated with Granderson over how often both are called Uncle Toms, presumably for their “no-nonsense,” “clean up your act” stances.
According to TVNewser, CNN bested MSNBC in primetime ratings in quarter two for the first time since 2009. With Soledad O’Brien’s departure earlier this year and former weekend anchor TJ Holmes’ departure in late 2012, the field is wide open for Lemon to make a name for himself as the seminal anchor of color on CNN (whether CNN’s interest in diversity extends beyond having a single Black anchor is another question). It’s interesting, then, that allying himself with Bill O’Reilly is Lemon’s big distinguishing act. Those of us who follow the “Black coverage” on CNN saw this coming, when Lemon anchored an “N-Word special” for the network, in the wake of the Paula Deen scandal. Even with the ever-candid LeVar Burton on hand to explain the complicated series of actions he does by rote when the police pull his car over, Lemon seemed more focused on shaping the conversation around why we should all stop using the N-Word if we expect Paula Deen not to use it.
This is a point Ana Navarro was sure to reinforce when she appeared on Lemon’s “defense panel” yesterday. “It was during the Trayvon Martin trial [sic] that the Paula Deen scandal happened. And let me tell you: there were a lot of people saying saying to themselves, ‘Well, gee, how come Paula Deen can’t say this word, but how come it’s being said just a few days later in the Trayvon Martin trial [sic] by an African American?’
Lemon lets this stand, as though the term “Trayvon Martin trial” doesn’t frame the victim as the accused and as though it’s perfectly logical and not at all racist to make an unarmed 17-year-old’s death about who “gets to say” the N-word. It’s clear that his priorities around integrity — both journalistic and personal — are a bit misplaced. If that seems harsh, consider his quip about “taking back” the term ‘Uncle Tom’ in this panel he assembled for the sole purpose of defending himself against “race traitor” accusations. “I’m gonna get the Uncle Tom Award,” he chuckles. He needn’t work too hard. Packing the most oversimplified, under-investigated, purely anecdotal evidence possible into a six-minute segment about “the Black community” has him off to a great start.
The most egregious example of this is the lone mother Lemon references in both of his “Get it together, Black folks” segments. Lemon paints her as emasculating and cruel, in describing the way she’s scolded her young son for crying before calling him — and eventually Lemon — N-words. He claims that, when he intervened, she went to a deli and emerged wielding an umbrella, poised to strike him.