Don Lemon was born on March 1, 1966 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. From a young age, Lemon showed an interest in news and media. He attended Baker High School, where he wrote for the school newspaper. After graduating high school in 1983, Lemon went on to study broadcast journalism at Brooklyn College in New York City. He graduated in 1996 with a degree in broadcast journalism.
While a student at Brooklyn College, Lemon also held internships at several New York media outlets including WNYW and WCAU. These internships gave him invaluable experience in television production and reporting. Shortly after graduating from college in 1996, Lemon landed his first on-air job.
Early Career – Local News Reporter
Lemon’s first on-air role was as a news reporter for WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama in 1996. He spent about a year gaining experience as a local news reporter in Birmingham.
In 1997, Lemon felt he was ready to take on a larger market and moved to Philadelphia to take a news reporter job at WCAU. He spent about three years reporting and anchoring the news in Philadelphia, covering major local stories.
In 2000, Lemon made his next big move – to Chicago to work at WMAQ-TV. During his time in Chicago, Lemon covered high profile stories like the Chicago real estate boom and the trial of R&B singer R. Kelly. He won local Emmy awards for his reporting work in Chicago.
CNN and National Recognition
After a decade of local news reporting and anchoring in Philadelphia and Chicago, Lemon was ready to take his career to the national stage. In 2003 he joined CNN, based in Atlanta, as a news correspondent.
Lemon’s first major assignment for CNN was covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. His gripping reports of events unfolding on the ground put a national spotlight on his reporting skills. Lemon went on to cover major stories like the 2006 midterm elections, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 2008 presidential race, and the 2010 BP oil spill.
In 2009, Lemon anchored his first CNN documentary, “Chicago’s Deadly Streets” investigating youth violence in Chicago.
Throughout the early 2010s, Lemon continued anchoring and reporting for CNN during major news events like the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, and Hurricane Sandy. His profile at the network continued to rise as he earned praise for his straightforward coverage.
In 2014, Lemon took over as host of “CNN Tonight” airing in primetime on weeknights. As host of his own show, he conducted notable interviews and developed a frank, direct interview style all his own.
Controversies and Critiques
As his profile has risen at CNN, Lemon himself occasionally becomes part of the story. His outspokenness on air and social media has drawn both loyal fans and vocal critics. Some praise his willingness to directly take on charged social and political issues like racism and police brutality during his reporting. Others criticize his journalist objectivity.
He has faced scrutiny several times, including over an on-air comment about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, questions related to gender and sexuality in some interviews, and reactions to President Trump’s policies and rhetoric. Despite ruffling some feathers, Lemon remains direct and unaffected with his presenting style.
As he takes on ever-more challenging interviews and stories on air, Lemon stays motivated. He told the New York Times in 2018 “If I make people uncomfortable in the process of telling the truth, then that’s okay.” This urge to dig into controversial issues has made Lemon one of CNN’s most visible personalities.
In addition to his high profile news career, Lemon makes time to give back. He won an Emmy award for reporting on real estate in poor communities in Chicago. He has also worked with the Boys Choir of Harlem youth organization since the mid 2000s.
In 2011, Lemon publicly announced he was gay during the release of his memoir “Transparent.” Being one of few openly gay black men on national TV news, Lemon has become an important figure in LGBT visibility.
Lemon resides in New York City on the Upper West Side. He has two sisters who he remains close with – Yma and Leisa. He lost his father in 2018 after a sudden accident. After the loss of his father, Lemon took two weeks off work to mourn – noting that his demanding work schedule often takes him away from family.
Ongoing CNN Host Career
Now several years into hosting his “CNN Tonight” show most weeknights, Lemon continues making his mark. He conducts direct interviews with politicians, celebrities, athletes and other public figures from all sides. He directly takes on racial injustice, police brutality, and LGBT rights alongside other social issues.
During the fractious Trump presidency years and the 2020 BLM protests, Lemon’s fiery exchanges and social commentary drew both high praise from some and disdain from others. But he remains consistently one of CNN’s most visible hosts. While liberal-leaning in his views and exchanges, he asserts journalistic independence.
As of late 2023, Don Lemon remains a host on CNN, holding court on the issues of the day five nights a week. Approaching 30 years in news and over 15 years at CNN, he has established himself as one of America’s most prominent and unfiltered broadcast journalists.
What were some of Don Lemon’s most high profile news stories and interviews over his career?
Don Lemon has covered and interviewed an incredibly wide range of major news stories and public figures over three decades as a journalist. Some highlights include:
- Hurricane Katrina (2005) – Lemon’s gripping on-the-ground coverage of Hurricane Katrina aftermath brought him into national spotlight at CNN. His reports from New Orleans showed him adept at reporting on quickly shifting events.
- Trayvon Martin shooting (2012) – Lemon’s coverage of and commentary on the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin was praised by some as raising critical perspectives on race and criminal justice in America.
- Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappearance (2014) – While covering the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370, Lemon faced scrutiny for an on-air suggestion that the missing plane could have been swallowed by a black hole. But he remained a prominent face covering the puzzling story at CNN.
- Trump presidency years (2016-2021) – Lemon conducted many direct and confrontational interviews with Trump supporters and critics during Trump’s campaigns and controversial presidency. His reactions and disputes around Trumpism made him a particularly controversial figure to conservatives.
- George Floyd protests (2020) – During the nationwide protests following the police murder of George Floyd, Lemon’s coverage and commentary was notable for directly addressing racial injustice issues. But he also faced renewed conservative criticism of alleged liberal bias.
- Biden administration years (2021-present) – In recent years Lemon has interviewed Biden administration figures like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, sometimes critically addressing issues like inflation or border policies from a left-leaning perspective.
Lemon has shown a knack for landing big interviews and not shying away from controversial issues that spark national debate across the political spectrum.
What personal hardships has Don Lemon faced?
In addition to a highly demanding career covering national news and politics as a prominent cable journalist, Don Lemon has faced several personal challenges and hardships:
- Sexual abuse – In his 2011 memoir “Transparent”, Lemon publicly revealed for the first time that he was sexually abused by a neighbor as a child. He later became an advocate against sexual abuse.
- Racism – As an outspoken black and openly gay television personality, Lemon has frequently been targeted by racist online attacks and threats – especially at the height of Trumpism circa 2016-2020 when he directly addressed issues like Confederate statues and NFL player protests.
- Loss of family members – In 2018, Lemon suddenly lost his father after an accident – forcing him to take a rare two week break from his demanding CNN work schedule to mourn this difficult loss. He also lost his older sister in a drowning accident when he was a small child.
- Health issues – Lemon has discussed bouts with chronic insomnia brought on by childhood trauma and stress from his high profile career along with sleep apnea issues, requiring him to use a CPAP machine. In 2017 he had to undergo surgery to remove a tumor on his vocal cords.
- Exhaustion – In January 2023 Lemon made headlines by admitting on-air he was “exhausted” from years of a grueling schedule hosting primetime shows five nights a week at CNN through major news cycles and personal losses.