I’m going to admit up front that Don Lemon is someone I try not to pay attention to, because I think Don Lemon might be the biggest troll of all time. Don Lemon is punking us. Don Lemon is entirely earnest. Don Lemon is the quintessential celebrity “news” anchor, and for that we should all probably feel something like shame.
This is all but confirmed by Lemon himself in a wild new GQ profile of the abased CNN anchor, which so aptly gets at his Lemonness with an anecdote about sorbet, it’s a wonder we haven’t come to these revelations about him sooner. The allusion to “Anchorman” in Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile, which might very well be the definitive work on Lemon now or ever, sort of tells us what we need to know: the Lemon spectacle we’ve come to anticipate is all a farce, but it’s not entirely clear if Lemon is in on it.
Whether he is or isn’t, the one thing that is clear is that Lemon "has no fucks left to give about what anyone thinks of him," as Broadesser-Akner puts it. Dude just doesn’t seem to care, and yet he’s described as speaking in “the complete sentences of a newsman who knows the power of a sound bite.”
It’s an intriguing combination, Lemon’s public presentation of unabashedly giving zero fucks and his seeming inability to extract his idiosyncratic Lemon lens from every observation he makes. It’s also what leads to the sorts of moments Lemon has to account for later, which get listed a lengthy, chronological, paragraph-long list of offenses in a GQ profile only after they’re tweeted and retweeted and memed and lambasted countless times first.
But the offenses, as Brodesser-Akner presents them, actually come with individual defenses:
The black-hole question wasn't actually Lemon's question; it was submitted by a viewer over Twitter, and he passed it along to an expert, calling it "preposterous." In Ferguson, when he said "obviously," he was just (he tells me) employing one of many of the filler words an anchor uses when he has to fill in dead air. His ISIS question was intended as a point of clarification: "His answer was so nebulous," Lemon says of the Muslim human-rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar, who, yes, if you watch the clip, is not completely clear. Given the context, Lemon's follow-up—"Do you support ISIS?"—was only moderately daffy: Iftikhar was trying to give a nuanced answer, and there's no room for nuance on CNN. CNN is a place for sound bites.
The biggest defense of all, of course, is attached to one of Lemon’s more egregious moments of late. The anchor’s explanation for what on earth he was thinking when he asked Joan Tarshis, one of the dozens of women to publicly accuse Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting her, why she didn’t just bite the comedian’s penis when he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex, is rich:
When I ask Lemon about his interview with the alleged Cosby victim and why he asked about the "usage of the teeth," he gives me a long answer about how the incident started a conversation about sex abuse. But it didn't do that, I tell him—it started a conversation about people who say the wrong thing to victims of sexual abuse. And shouldn't he have known better? After all, he was a victim, too. … Lemon tells me that when he was a child and was being forced to perform oral sex on his abuser, he told that fucker that the next time, he'd bite his dick off, and that's when Don Lemon stopped getting molested.
This is what Lemon does all the time, and this one of the reasons we don’t like him. He lives inside his own head and then says the things he thinks inside his head, just like the rest of us — only he says those things on cable television, for hours at a time, often when there is literally nothing newsworthy for him to be talking about. Unlike other celebrity anchors, who effectively act as trampolines from which information can bounce to “experts,” Lemon injects a whiff of commentary that might be earnest and problematic or contrived and trolly or both or neither. He just sort of talks, and is okay with that, and in a way we’re okay with it too.
So, in at least that respect, Brodesser-Akner is right to characterize Lemon as “the anchor we deserve.” He makes it all about him without much apparent ability to extrapolate from his own experience, evidenced by the much-decried “missteps” for which he’s infamous. And yet his ratings are fine, he’s in a still frame interviewing a llama (handler) all over social media, and his genuine (or is it?) mispronunciation of “sorbette” has inspired at least one think piece (this one). Is Don Lemon fucking with us all? Probably. But maybe not. It seems his only plan might be to make us keep watching until we figure it out, because lord knows he’s probably not going to help us find any answers.