News & Views » Cover Story

Can Don Lemon set CNN straight?

Cable news is broken and the 'CNN Newsroom' anchor could be the guy to fix it



Page 3 of 4

For what it's worth, that statement seems to ring true for Lemon. It's easy to assume that a gay black guy like Lemon is a diehard liberal, until the moment in his book when he gushes about Ronald Reagan or recalls his time involved with Young Republicans in college. He even has plenty of kind words to say about Bill O'Reilly. Maybe those things are something of a put-on; he certainly skews liberal at times. Ultimately, Lemon's not interested in giving anyone the answers they want to hear, "I'm not concerned with what people think of me," he says. "I mean, I'm a gay black guy. If I can't ask questions without caring what people think of me, who can?"

"News people are human. They have backgrounds, they have certain lenses, they have certain filters. I don't believe any newsperson should be ideological or partisan. I think you should always seek to point out the truth and if something is bullshit, it's bullshit."

He checks his phone. It's time to go to work.

Past the security guards and escalators at CNN's world headquarters, Lemon arrives at a newsroom that feels roughly the size of football field, though it's probably smaller than that, and filled with desks and about 100 reporters. Each desk is equipped with a computer and three flat screen monitors.

Lemon gets settled into his desk, combs his hair with an Afro pick, the classic kind with the big, black fist for a handle, and then announces to anyone in earshot, "Oh, and everything you say today is going to end up in Creative Loafing."

In this newsroom, whatever industry trouble CNN may be facing isn't immediately palpable. The team of reporters and producers works briskly and with orchestrated focus, convening for a meeting to discuss the latest story developments. Occupy Wall Street gets a lot of talk. An animal rights group has released video from a factory farm that has left McDonald's in damage-control mode. A couple of producers sketch out a rough schedule of priorities on a white board while reporters hash out the details. The capture of Gaddafi's son in Libya is set to be the lead story at 5 p.m.

While Lemon starts to work over a script for the newscast, a senior producer, Glenn Emery, walks over. He talks a lot about his years of work with the network, how he can't imagine working for any other news network: "Journalism is still the gold standard here. As much as possible." He also says that he's leaving in January.

Lemon checks his Twitter feed on his iPhone and shows me a message from a viewer that reads, "Why are all of the black anchors on the weekend?" When I ask him what he thinks about that, he just shrugs his shoulders. Later, at a photo shoot for this story, I ask him if he knows why T.J. Holmes decided to leave CNN for BET. He shrugs his shoulders again at that question, "I think he probably wanted something more than weekends." After considering it a bit longer, he says, "If we complain about it, we're malcontents but if you don't how do you sleep at night?"

Lemon is assertive about his abilities. In Transparent, he complains about being assigned to lesser crime reporting while an anchor in Chicago, saying, "Sending me, with all I had learned from my experiences with NBC News, out to cover a shooting was like sending a tank out to break up a fight between a couple of kindergartners." He carries himself in that cocksure and convinced manner, too. But the traits that come across as self-important in person are the same mannerisms that make Lemon magnetic in front of a camera and lights.

Minutes before he's scheduled to be on the air, Lemon heads into what looks like a full-blown hair and makeup salon. A guy with long hair and a soul patch sets into working on him without saying a word. He fixes his hair, sets up a few layers of makeup, breaks out an airbrush and works it over his face.

Lemon walks from hair and makeup directly to the "CNN Newsroom" studio, which is preceded by a series of black doors with warning signs, the kind of thing that usually precedes air-tight chambers in Hollywood films or indoor shooting ranges. Once you pass through, you enter into a glass, square fishbowl room filled with computers. It's a room you imagine might have a name like "Control Room." There is no one in this room.

Past the "Control Room" is the "Newsroom" set, a white cube of futuristic flat and white polished surfaces lit by about a hundred different cannon-shaped lights pointing in all directions. Every surface that isn't white and polished is smokily transparent and illuminated by moving, multicolor fiber optic lights. The cameras are the only fixtures that don't fit into this polished and glowing sphere. They are hulking black monsters trailed by thick cords that look lifted from an H.R. Giger illustration and move across the floor in smooth but sloth-like glides.

Comments (62)

Showing 1-25 of 62

Add a comment

Add a comment