Recently, CNN’s New Day has been on a streak of providing fairly objective reporting. Alas, it was a streak that Don Lemon decided to end this Thursday morning, ambling over from his nightly slots for what seemed to be a monthly Festivus tradition of his: complaining that the media isn’t doing enough to attack Republicans. Essentially openly opposing new CNN boss Chris Licht’s reported desire to bring CNN back to journalism and away from Lemon’s brand of partisanship.
The reason Lemon graced the TV screens at such an early hour was apparently due to an interview on Wednesday evening, where former Proud Boys spokesperson Jason van Tatenhove expressed fears of political extremists rising to prominence in the Republican Party, and NYU History professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat said, “I don't think a lot of people know that on the local and state level there's a lot of intermingling and fusion between extremists and the GOP, and I really see the GOP as an extremist entity now.”
Lemon described the interview as “one of the most surreal moments I think I’ve ever had on CNN,” and echoed the opinions of his two guests:
We sit around and we talk about these things and we — we want to give this false equivalence to Democrats and Republicans. That is not where we are right now. Republicans are doing something that is very dangerous to our society, and we have to acknowledge that. We have to acknowledge that as Americans, we must acknowledge that as journalists, because if we don't we’re not doing our jobs.
Using a tiny fraction of extremists to smear the entire GOP is par for the course for Lemon, but he really raised eyebrows when he said, “We cannot sit here and pretend like, well, Republicans it's a — cut them a break. Let’s — we want to hear — they have a lot to answer for in this moment.”
This seems to be a thinly veiled swipe at Licht, CNN’s new CEO, who has made it clear that he wants CNN to focus more on journalism and less on partisan politics. “[The] people who are in charge of — of what we — of what the American press puts out, they want to believe that we are living in 1987, this sort of Reagan-esque Republican,” he scoffed. “That's not where we are right now. And if we continue to allow that we are going to go off of a cliff and I'm not sure that we can return.”
Lemon hammered on this idea by claiming that objective journalists need to hold Republicans to account over the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and ask them, “Why they are — whether you agree with abortion rights or not — why they have taken back a right that was — that, uh — you know, that was granted to — uh, American women for 50 years.”
Hopefully Lemon was just speaking too quickly, because otherwise this is an unbelievably arrogant statement: you must be hostile to Republicans for doing something they said they were going to do for 50 years — even if you agree with them.
When New Day co-host John Berman brought up the alleged “bleedover” between radical groups and the Republican political apparatus, Lemon took it a step further, “It’s not bleedover. It's — it’s a merger — they’re merging.”
Lemon concluded his monthly airing of grievances by telling his listeners:
You cannot expect Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger or — or Jeff Duncan to become Democrats overnight ... they are Republicans, and you must allow them to be who they are. They just happen to be sober and smart and they understand what's happening in the country right now and that no one should be trying to overturn a free and fair election, especially a President of the United States.
Point taken about overturning elections, but Lemon has created an obviously false dichotomy: in his mind, you’re either a Liz Cheney or an Oath Keeper, either a “sober and smart” Republican on their way to becoming a Democrat who agrees with Lemon, or a drunken and dumb Wild Bill Hickock cosplayer.
Given that less than half of the media believes in giving equal coverage to both sides of the issue, many probably agree with him.
Click “Expand” to see the relevant transcript.
CNN’s New Day
8:36:56 AM ET
BRIANNA KEILAR: The January 6 Committee hearings shedding new light on the rising radicalization of far-right groups in America. Watch this clip from Don Lemon's show.
[Cuts to clip]
RUTH BEN-GHIAT [NYU History professor on Don Lemon Tonight, 7/13/22]: One of the benefits of the hearings is to put awareness on how radicalized the GOP has become, because January 6th happened because of radicalization already, but it was in itself a highly — it was like an accelerant. Uh, it’s where — it was like a recruiting place. And I think that — uh, awareness is our watchword to — uh, make sure that we can do things to prevent this from festering further.
I don't think a lot of people know that on the local and state level there's a lot of intermingling and fusion between extremists and the GOP, and I really see the GOP as an extremist entity now. So it's not just that Oath Keepers or Proud Boys can become the militia wing or the paramilitary wing of the party, the party itself is morphing into an extremist force. And so going forward that's what I'm really worried about.
DON LEMON: Would you agree with that, Jason?
JASON VAN TATENHOVE [former Oath Keepers Spokesperson]: I — I do. I do. I think we're seeing it in Idaho, we’re seeing it in the Pacific Northwest where more and more candidates are running that have close ties or — you know, outright encouraged to run. Um — you know, we've seen people like Matt Shea and others who really have — have a — uh, a worldview that I don't want to live in.
LEMON: So what's the fix?
TATENHOVE: The — the fix is us. Like we — we've got to have these conversations, we've got to be talking about this, we've got to stop mincing words, we’ve got to — you know. We’ve all had these conversations on our — on our couches with our family about how crazy things have gotten, but we — we, I don’t — we've got to figure it out. We can't stop.
[End of clip]
KEILAR: Joining us now is the anchor of CNN's Don Lemon Tonight and the author of This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism, Don Lemon. That was fascinating, especially what Jason van Tatenhove was nodding along with as we heard that professor speaking.
LEMON: The entire interview. And I said to him on the set and to the audience that it was — um, really surreal sitting there with someone who identified in some way with the Oath Keepers — whether he was a member or worked for them as spokesperson what have you — but sitting there with this guy who has — you know, uh, worked with a group who was part of the insurrection, who has been part of the tearing down of democracy, who has been demonizing people like me and you who work for the media, people of color, women — um, and, you know, going into the Capitol and trying to steal a free and fair election. It was, you know, one of the most surreal moments I think I’ve ever had on CNN, when he walked into the studio I said that.
But speaking very soberly about the realities of America and American politics right now. We sit around and we talk about these things and we — we want to give this false equivalence to Democrats and Republicans. That is not where we are right now. Republicans are doing something that is very dangerous to our society, and we have to acknowledge that. We have to acknowledge that as Americans, we must acknowledge that as journalists, because if we don't we’re not doing our jobs.
We cannot sit here and pretend like, well, Republicans it's a — cut them a break. Let’s — we want to hear — they have a lot to answer for in this moment. A lot to answer for what happened with the former President of the United States, why they allowed his antics to go on for so long, why he is not accountable, why they go along with it and don't say anything. They've got to answer for that. Why they are — whether you agree with abortion rights or not — why they have taken back a right that was — that, uh — you know, that was granted to — uh, American women for 50 years.
They have to answer for those questions if they come here on CNN they must answer for that. If they go on MSNBC they must answer for that. If they go on ABC they must answer for that. And they cannot expect to be coddled when they go on to a news organization or if they step in front of a crowd of supporters. And so — or of voters or of Americans.
So we’ve gotta so — we have a former member of the Oath Keepers who is saying we are in very dangerous territories — territory. We have a history professor who is telling us right now that the GOP is becoming more and more associated with extremists and radicals.
JOHN BERMAN: And that's specifically what they were talking about that was interesting and notable, the suggestion that there's bleedover —
BERMAN: — between the Oath Keepers and they talked about — I think they brought up Idaho and the Pacific Northwest —
LEMON: It’s not bleedover. It's — it’s a merger — they’re merging. And we can — let's not pretend. I think people — I think people, even the former President — um, I think even — um, people who are in charge of — of what we — of what the American press puts out, they want to believe that we are living in 1987, this sort of Reagan-esque Republican. That's not where we are right now. And if we continue to allow that we are going to go off of a cliff and I'm not sure that we can return.
People — you know, the President Biden did an interview and said — uh, you know, I want to unite the American people. Okay. That's great. Is it Pollyannish? Probably. Would most people like that to happen? Yes. But that is not why — I think that's a misrepresentation of why Joe Biden was elected. Joe Biden wasn't elected — there aren't Democrats going oh, I want to be — you know, come more to the center and be more like a Republican and not Republicans being like I want to be more like a Democrat.
The reason that Joe Biden was elected is because people wanted sanity, they were tired of the crazy headlines every day, they were tired of every moment looking at their social media accounts or getting a head line saying — not knowing what was going to happen, that some crazy thing was going to happen like the possibility of an insurrection at the United States Capitol.
KEILAR: Well I think one of the dirty little secrets here in recent years pre-Trump was the Republican Party playing footsie with some of these elements and trying to channel some of the power of folks who identified with some beliefs.
LEMON: They wanted their votes.
KEILAR: They wanted their votes.
KEILAR: Uh, I — trying to channel that enthusiasm without co-opting the points of views — right? — of those folks but now you actually have the cart leading the horse.
KEILAR: Now it's switched on who’s channeling who. Who’s leading.
LEMON: You have the inmates running the asylum, basically. You have the extremists because I know there are Republicans who are sitting out there now going, oh no no Don Lemon that's not what we are. Maybe it's not what you are but it's what your party has become, it is what you have allowed to happen.
KEILAR: But there are Republicans who have — I mean, we’ve had Tim Miller on here recently, right?
KEILAR: There are Republicans who will completely say, Don Lemon, you — you are correct —
KEILAR: And the origins of that are just what you are talking about.
LEMON: You’ll have Adam Kinzinger, you’ll have Liz Cheney who will say it, you will have Tim Duncan of — um, uh — you’ll have the former — um, excuse me — the former Lieutenant Governor.
BERMAN: Jeff Duncan.
LEMON: The Lieutenant Governor of Georgia who will say that, but there are very few Republicans who will say that.
And I — and I have to say something to Democrats. When Liz Cheney — you know — said a couple weeks ago that she actually agreed with — in part — uh, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, liberals and Democrats were so upset with her, it’s like, oh, Liz Cheney, it was going so great for such a long time.
You cannot expect Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger or — or Jeff Duncan to become Democrats overnight.
LEMON: They’re not — they are Republicans, and you must allow them to be who they are. They just happen to be sober and smart and they understand what's happening in the country right now and that no one should be trying to overturn a free and fair election, especially a President of the United States. He should be upholding the Constitution, instead of trying to tear down the Constitution.