Don Lemon, who has been on CNN since 2006, says the “toxicity” of social media and the balkanized, vocal state of the nation in the Trump era make him uncertain whether he will remain on the air doing his current show through the 2020 election.
“I was doing a shoot in the park the other day and someone shouted at me, ‘I’m sick of watching you. We built this country. I can’t wait for CNN to fire your black a–, you f—-t,'” he recalled Thursday during a keynote session at the FT Future of News Summit. “So, all of those sorts of people call you on the phone and say those things, or they write you. I don’t go on social media any more, it’s so toxic.”
Moderator Matthew Garrahan, news editor of the Financial Times, relayed an audience question posted online, wondering whether Lemon would stay on the air despite it all. “I don’t know,” he said. “I absolutely love what I do. … But I wonder how long I want to do this particular job in the way that I do it.” He later clarified, “It doesn’t mean I don’t have a commitment to journalism, it just means I may want to do it a different way.”
While the 20-minute session touched on a few other topics, Lemon’s misgivings about the current era in cable news and popular political culture proved a dominant theme.
Lemon said the lack of “personal safety” has “taken a toll.” At 53, the host of a two-hour nightly show on CNN, said he has become concerned about changes in his day-to-day reactions. Not only sparring with guests and pushing back on the Trump administration, but being what Garrahan described as a “unicorn” — an openly gay, black host in primetime has made him an unusually big target.
“I’m such a gregarious person,” he said. “When people would come up to me, I would give them a hug. I don’t do that anymore because you don’t know what someone’s motives are. Somebody could accuse me of making them uncomfortable or being inappropriate with them or touching them inappropriately. When someone asks me for a selfie, I say, ‘Do you mind if I put my arm around you?’ I am very careful about that. And I shouldn’t be. But that’s where we are.”
He added, “Everything catches up with you. I don’t know if I can deal with this level of toxicity for so long.”
Lemon did show many flashes of humor during the conversation. He recalled getting invited to be a celebrity cooking event hosted by Bobby Flay. He remembered thinking, “My gosh, this is so refreshing I didn’t have to talk about the president. I didn’t have to talk politics. I just had to judge someone’s hamburger.”