This incident was the latest in a distinct pattern. Less than a week ago Lemon asked a woman who alleged that Bill Cosby raped her why she didn’t halt the encounter by using her teeth as, you know, “a weapon.”
“I believe every journalist should be able to ask questions even if those questions are uncomfortable,” Lemon said in his own defense the next day.
A few weeks earlier, he ruffled a few more feathers by defending controversial comments made by Charles Barkley and, a few weeks before that, he could be found on air comparing hitting a child to hitting a dog.
It remains unclear which came first — Don Lemon inserting his agitating personal opinion into his coverage or his bosses rewarding him with more air time for doing just that. Either way, the combination has been a volatile one. In a matter of months the one-time golden boy with the charming smile has gone from a talking head to a head that seems incapable of not talking when other people are trying to answer his questions. Not since gaffe-laden Rick Sanchez has a CNN anchor courted this much controversy. It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment “Don Lemon, CNN anchor” became “Don Lemon aggressively subjective CNN polemicist,” but experts trace his emergence to at least as early as last year, when Lemon sided with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in a discussion about young black men’s social decorum and use of belts.
Those remarks, as Mediaite pointed out, elicited a response from entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who wrote an open letter saying, “I can’t accept that you would single out black teenagers as the cause of their own demise because they don’t speak the King’s English or wear belts around their waistbands.”
It was a formative moment for aggressively subjective Lemon, one that seemed to embolden a man who had only just begun to leave his objectivity behind. One year and many controversy-sparking remarks later, Lemon unleashed what is considered by some to be his lowest (or maybe highest) moment when he turned a panel discussion about missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 into a clip worthy of the History’s Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” series.
A few days later, during a spot with “Homeland” executive producer, Gideon Raff, Lemon compared a traumatic hostage crisis to a television series.
“Do you see similarities between Bowe Bergdahl’s release and your character Sgt. Nicholas Brody in Homeland?”
A few months later and Lemon could be found on the streets of Ferguson, getting into a shouting match with Talib Kweli that included the rapper calling Lemon’s greeting skills into question.
Fast forward to Monday night, when Lemon slipped the word “obviously” into a statement about unruly protesters, setting off a reaction as heated as the burning police car several blocks away.
Don’t expect Lemon to mellow anytime soon. An Associated Press article noted that CNN is in favor of the anchor’s editorializing “so long as he’s not predictably partisan.” “Predictable” might be the operative word there, considering Lemon is proving that he is anything but.
Janelle Rodriguez, vice president of programming at CNN U.S., told the AP that Lemon talks to viewers instead of talking down to them.
“Having a personality is a positive attribute,” she said.