It’s a common sight in today’s media landscape to see a journalist claim to be unbiased while also making ludicrously biased statements. It is far rarer for both of these to occur in the same interview, but CNN host Don Lemon delivered the goods during his interview on Wednesday’s New Day, both defending his questioning of the White House Press Secretary and saying that the media are right to be biased against Republicans because they’re too dangerous to be given legitimacy.
These contradictions came up during a lengthy discussion between Lemon and co-hosts John Berman and Brianna Keilar, who began by talking about an interview given to The Daily Beast by the mother of one of the white supremacists arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who said, “she doesn't understand where it [her son’s radicalization] came from.”
Lemon responded with a mixture of legitimate insight and legitimate historical illiteracy:
Well of course we understand where it comes from. Of course we do. Look at what happened on January 6th. We understand that people can be co-opted by certain people, certain individuals, certain groups, by the internet. And we should not pretend that that does not happen, and that people can be co-opted by bigotry and hatred — um, some of which our country was founded on, and some of which we — most of which we haven't dealt with in our society.
The unfortunate young man was clearly radicalized by racist ideologies, most likely through the Patriot Front’s online presence. But to claim that a nation which fought a Civil War — the bloodiest war in American history — to realize the belief that “all men are created equal” was founded on “bigotry and hatred” is just flat-out wrong.
That that promise of equality was often not realized is a blot on American history, but even a cursory look at the history books will show that as early as the 1780s many realized the contradictions between some of America’s practices — such as slavery — and the principles of her founding documents.
On the topic of not practicing what you preach, Lemon spent the latter half of his interview doing just that. On the one hand, when asked about his Monday night interview with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Lemon forcefully defended his questioning of Biden’s ability to run in 2024, “Liberals need to stop having a double standard when it comes to questions that we can ask Democrats and questions that we can ask Republicans.”
Lemon even engaged in some self-deprecating commentary, “I think Joe Biden is a nice man. He's going to be, you know, he's almost 80 years old. I am in my 50s. I have trouble recalling things. I'm not as sharp as I used to be.”
On the other hand, Lemon concluded the interview with an affirmation of his progressive allegiance:
We cannot have a false sense of equivalency about what is happening when it comes to politics in our country. There's one party, right now, that's not operating in fact. That has been misleading the American people. And that is the Republican Party. . .And so we, as journalists, need to stand up for that and not pretend that it's — uh, that we can “both sides” this. This is not a “both sides” thing.
If Lemon seriously thinks this is what it means to be a good journalist, “I'm not as sharp as I used to be” might not be able to cover it.
Click “Expand” to see the relevant transcript.
CNN’s New Day
8:22:57 AM ET
JOHN BERMAN: Joining us now is Don Lemon, who conveniently anchors a show called Don Lemon Tonight on CNN. He's also the author of This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism. Don, nice it see you.
DON LEMON: Good morning to both of you.
BERMAN: Listen, you just heard Sara's report there. What’s the big takeaway for you?
LEMON: Uh, this is what you say to your friends about racism and about bigotry is the big takeaway. And this is — the equipment that they had, that's what separates quite honestly this crazy, which is of another magnitude just from your every average — uh, everyday hate-filled bigot. This is beyond. These are people who all came together, 30 some people and I would imagine that there are more somewhere else and that they're recruiting more people. 30 some young men, who are — you know — people who are trying to celebrate pride, who are trying to celebrate quite frankly the joys and the freedoms and the luxuries of being an American which is — should be afforded to all of us — uh, and they want to go against that, and create harm and havoc.
The thing that got me is — and Sara said it — that they wanted to raise a voice against the moral depravity which prevents events such as — like this, as this to take place. Not even the — considering, right, the hypocrisy here, their own moral depravity of trying to disrupt this event and possibly harm people. This goes against the laws of America, the laws of our society and definitely against the laws of any religion that I have ever read about, that I know about. So that's their own hypocrisy here.
BRIANNA KEILAR: The mother of one of the guys, of one of the 31, who is from Utah — he's from Utah — spoke to The Daily Beast, and I think we all have a question about what prompts someone to do this, or to join a group like this, and she said this isn't the son I raised, but she felt that he was looking for some kind of brotherhood, that he was actually brought in, in part, by the community that this group gave to him after some personal issues that he was having in his life. I wonder what you think about that?
LEMON: Look it’s, um — uh, I have empathy for people who are dealing with this, especially a mother, you know, I can only imagine my mother and you as a mother going through this. But I'm always surprised when people say I had no idea or I didn't know.
KEILAR: She knew. She — she had some tip-offs.
DON LEMON: But I — well, yes, but that’s — uh —
KEILAR: But she doesn't understand where it came from.
LEMON: Well of course we understand where it comes from. Of course we do. Look at what happened on January 6th. We understand that people can be co-opted by certain people, certain individuals, certain groups, by the internet. And we should not pretend that that does not happen, and that people can be co-opted by bigotry and hatred — um, some of which our country was founded on, and some of which we — most of which we haven't dealt with in our society.
8:26:46 AM ET
BERMAN: Don, you had an interview with the White House Press Secretary two nights ago that is still making news this morning. People are still talking about it because, first of all it was a terrific interview on a wide range of subjects, but you asked about reports that are now coming out — there was a New York Times story, you're hearing it from other Democrats as well — who are asking questions about whether President Biden — these are Democrats asking questions — about whether President Biden should be the nominee in 2024. I want to play an exchange.
LEMON [on CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight, 06/13/22]: Does the President have the stamina — physically and mentally — do you think, to continue on, even after 2024?
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE [on CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight, 06/13/22]:: Don, you're asking me this question. Oh, my gosh. He's the President of the United States. You know, he — I can't even keep up with it. We just got back from new Mexico. We just got back — um, from California. Uh, that is — I, I — that is not a question that we should be even asking.
[End of clip]
BERMAN: What do you think of her response, Don?
LEMON: Um, of course we should be asking that question. First of all, I'm a journalist. That's my job, is to ask questions and as the person who represents the administration and the President, it’s her job to answer those questions. I would not be doing my job if I didn't ask that. Let's just be honest about this. I didn't question whether — I'm not being ageist and saying that the President of the United States — of, of the United States, is too old to be — uh, President. Um, we can judge that. I think that's an individual thing, right? But um — I do think that as the President of the United States, we should know the health history, both physically and mentally, of the United States, the President of the United States.
We certainly questioned the former President's capabilities and whether or not he should have the mental capacity, quite frankly, and the physical capacity to be the President of the United States, and we did it a lot. He had Covid — can he physically be the President of the United States? We — it has been said even in these hearings he is unhinged — um, that he, you know, he is out of his mind because of what he — you know, things that he was doing. Now I'm not comparing the two men, but it is our job as journalists, and as Americans, to know the physical and mental capacity of the President of — of the United States.
And I want to be very clear about this. I think Joe Biden is a nice man. He's going to be, you know, he's almost 80 years old. I am in my 50s. I have trouble recalling things. I'm not as sharp as I used to be.
BERMAN: Late 50s.
LEMON: Stop it. We're going to fight about this. Look, but, think about this, I'm not as sharp as I used to be. And — and the job of President of the United States is a really, really tough job. Maybe he is — I'm sure he's up to the job, but it is my job as a journalist to ask. And I had — the reason I asked that question is because of — there are reports that are coming out, there was a report in The New York Times about what Democrats are saying, that there are whispers and we know that as journalists, we know that there are whispers, and we — we interview the President, we watch him in press conferences, we watch him do interviews on — he was on Jimmy Kimmel the other night, and quite frankly I had trouble following him. He was — his answers are not succinct.
And I understand that he is — uh, an issue as a stutterer as a child. I interviewed him several times, leading up to the his — his, you know, when he was running for President, and as President of the United States I’ve interviewed him, and he has trouble sometimes connecting and his answers sometimes don't make sense. And so I want to know as a journalist, as an American, does this President have the mental and physical stamina to run again as President of the United States considering the reports that are coming out, and considering my eyes and my ears. I can hear him, and I can see him every single day. And as someone who is — my mother is, will be 80 this year, I doubt that she would want to be President of the United States and she is a sharp woman. And so I think we need to really think about that. Younger people being more involved in the political process. Younger people of course can be involved in the political process. But we need to think about at a certain time in one's life, perhaps they should think about that, and that includes Donald Trump as well, who is not far behind the current President of the United States.
BERMAN: I’'ve also seen you on social media, Don — uh, this —
LEMON: Wait, hang on. And, and, I think liberals — hold on, this is — you're putting up the Lebron thing — but liberals need to stop having a double standard when it comes to questions that we can ask Democrats and questions that we can ask Republicans. I reported a number of times, many times, on Donald Trump's fitness for office. And it is okay and expected for journalists to report on the current President — President's fitness for office, whether that President is a Democrat or a Republican. We have to have the same standards for both.
8:33:38 AM ET
LEMON: But let me tell you, we have to —
BERMAN: Then, we're not leaving it there, to be clear.
LEMON: Just — we have — we cannot have a false sense of equivalency about what is happening when it comes to politics in our country. There's one party, right now, that's not operating in fact. That has been misleading the American people. And that is the Republican Party, sadly, of which I used to be a member of the Republican Party, years ago. I'm not a member of any party right now, but we have to — we cannot pretend as journalists that it is equal. It is not. Democrats are doing their Democrat thing and they're being, you know, liberal and they want all these things, but that's the way normal politics operates. And you — we can deal with those things. But what the Republican Party is doing now and not standing up for our democracy and being quiet, that is very dangerous. We cannot have all of — we cannot fight all of these things and make a better world and do what Larry Summers told me last night about getting our economy together if we don't have a functioning democracy. And so we, as journalists, need to stand up for that and not pretend that it's — uh, that we can “both sides” this. This is not a “both sides” thing.