Don Lemon may be used to tackling the hard-hitting topics as an anchor on CNN, but he admits covering both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement can be “a lot” to endure.
In a candid conversation with The Hollywood Reporter editorial director Nekesa Moody on Promax Virtual Experience, the CNN anchor opened up about how the pandemic has helped the Black Lives Matter movement remain prominent and keep conversations constant.
“We saw his [George Floyd’s] life be extinguished in front of our eyes. So, you have people who are at home, they’re vulnerable,” he explained. “I don’t think that we’ll ever get this opportunity in my lifetime to have people open to change and to be able to affect some sort of change. I think that’s what’s different in this moment.”
Lemon says that because “there was no denying” that racism continues to exist in the country after Floyd’s death was caught on video, it immediately impacted everyone around the world. “I think people were sitting at home, especially moms and dads who have children, and they said, ‘that could be me’ or ‘that could be my child.'”
As the nation continues to grapple with “two viruses,” whether it be COVID-19 or, as Lemon describes it, “race 20,” Lemon says it’s easy to see how both are “related” when navigating how to cover both topics as a journalist.
“You see African Americans and people of color are effected by COVID-19 more than anyone else because African Americans and people of color tend to be on the bottom rung of society. They tend to have the jobs where they are in contact with people mostly. They have underlying conditions. So those two are relatable. … You may think that you’re covering different stories, but really they are related and relatable in more ways than you think.”
As protests against police brutality following the death of Floyd and Breonna Taylor continue, Lemon says the lines have become blurred when covering both COVID-19 and the uprisings.
“When you’re sitting there watching people who are protesting and you wonder as we’re in the middle of a pandemic, is this going to be a super spreader event? Are the people who are out there, many of them African Americans, are they going to go home and take it to their families? It’s really relatable.”
While anchoring CNN, Lemon has been known to be vocal with his stance on a variety of issues, whether calling out Hollywood leaders for inaction amid nationwide protests or having a heated exchange with Terry Crews about the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Having been a CNN anchor since 2014, Lemon says, over time, he’s learned to “feel more comfortable” in his profession.
“Being a person, a Black man, and 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 said.
“If I can’t give my point of view and speak through the experiences that I have had as a man of color who has lived on this earth for more than 50 years, who happens to have this platform, then what am I going to do? 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.”
He went on to explain that journalists like himself “have to step up” and have a duty to “call out the lies and the B.S.” “We’re living in a country with a vacuum in leadership, a president who’s trying to divide us instead of bringing us together and who’s trying to stoke racial tension and dissension, and not trying to bring us together. So it’s incumbent upon us as Americans to do it ourselves.”
To ensure the conversations about race stay constant, Lemon has released a podcast titled, Silence is Not an Option, in which he has “deeper conversations about the topics that we have on the news.”
“It’s about race because racism is the third rail that runs through our society and our culture. It is what America was founded on. It is something that we hold onto in America that we don’t necessarily like to discuss.”
The podcast, released a month ago, debuted in the top two and has remained in the top 10. While hosting, Lemon has welcomed a myriad of guests including his own mother.
“I don’t pretend in this podcast to know everything and to have all the answers. That’s why I rely a lot on experts, but also rely on my personal experiences and people I know in my life. I bring in family members and friends so that we can have a discussion so that people at home know that it’s OK to have these discussions and to be candid about them,” he explains.
“This podcast will help people accomplish what America is about and that more perfect union. That’s what we’re trying to create with this podcast and help people and give them the tools to be able to get to that place, a country that works for all of us.”