CNN fired longtime anchor and New Year’s Eve boozer Don Lemon on the same day Rupert Murdoch cast Tucker Carlson out of the flaming pits of Fox News. This frees both men to star in a reality TV remake of The Odd Couple. Lemon was a mediocre journalist but not an existential threat to democracy and human decency, so while I’m not torn up over his departure, I have no reason to dance for joy.
We probably all saw this coming, even if Lemon claims he didn’t — as I mentioned, his journalistic instincts weren’t the best. A few months ago, he offended his female colleagues when he said, on air, that “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry.” Here are his actual words that my wife couldn’t read without punctuating every sentence with “ugh!”:
A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s. If you Google when is a woman in her prime, it’ll say 20s, 30s, and 40s. I’m not saying I agree with that.
He later apologized for his Al Bundy moment.(Not surprisingly, Carlson defended him.)
Lemon also complained that his co-host Kaitlin Collins interrupted him too often. (This was statistically improbable.) Some potential guests had said they didn’t want to appear on air with Lemon, whose popularity with viewers had plummeted.
Those were all good reasons to fire Lemon, but according to the New York Times, Lemon’s fate was sealed after his fractious interview with former libertarian rapper and current Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.
Lemon’s co-host Poppy Harlow had asked Ramaswamy about his absurd speech at the recent NRA fest where he claimed racist Democrats wants to put Black people back in chains and suggested that the Second Amendment is how Black people secured their freedoms. This history is so skewed he might as well have said John Shaft fought at Gettysburg.
Mediaite has the full transcript, but I’ll include the more insulting nonsense below:
LEMON: I don’t really see what one has to do with the other, especially considering and using the Civil War to talk about Black Americans. That war was not fought for Black people to have guns.
RAMASWAMY: That war was fought for Black people to have freedoms in this country. Yeah, actually, that’s why the Civil War was fought. The sad thing is…
LEMON: The Civil War wasn’t fought for poor Black people to have guns.
RAMASWAMY: Actually, you know, funny fact is, Black people did not get to enjoy the other freedoms until their Second Amendment rights were secured. And I think that that’s one of the lessons that.
Noted black-people-ologist Ramaswamy lectured Lemon for a bit about how good Black people have it now compared to 1865 and 1964, when there was no Internet.
LEMON: For you to compare it to 1865 and 1964 is actually… I think it’s insulting to Black people. It’s insulting to me as an African-American, I don’t want to sit here and argue with you because it’s infuriating for you to put that to put those things together. It’s not right. Your telling of history is wrong. Your…
RAMASWAMY: What part of the history was wrong.
LEMON: The Civil War was fought. You’re making people think that the Civil War was fought for Black people, only for Black people to get guns. And for Black people to.
RAMASWAMY: A civil war was fought for Black people in this country to get freedoms, a noble mission. And I think that even after we succeeded, we had to actually secure those freedoms.
LEMON: To reduce it, in a speech at the NRA, to say, you’re making people think, you’re trying to say that Black people to get guns, that was that was the reason that you’re there at the NRA. That was a reason for the Civil War. I think that’s reductive…
RAMASWAMY: It’s a fact! It’s not reductive, Don.
It’s not fact, and it’s too stupid to even be reductive. Right-wing dolts made this silly point back when President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a national holiday. A post circulated on social media with the image of a Black woman holding a gun, and the text read: “Juneteenth is the day Republicans freed the Slaves from Democrat slave owners. Shortly after the NRA was formed to help Black people defend themselves against the Democrats’ KKK.”
This was obviously not true, as Joseph Lowndes, a professor of political science at the University of Oregon, explained.
“The KKK was a guerrilla terrorist organization. So to talk about the KKK in terms of open party affiliation doesn’t make a lot of sense because we’re talking about a different kind of entity all together,” he said. “There were Democrats in the South who were supportive of the KKK. And there are Democrats who weren’t.”
Frank Smyth, author of The NRA: The Unauthorized History, also had to explain that the NRA was not in fact formed to protect Black people from the Klan. (Although, I confess I’d probably have seen a film with this premise in the mid-1990s if it had starred Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.)
“The National Rifle Association was formed in New York City in 1871, by a group of former Union Army officers and veterans. They formed the NRA in order to improve marksmanship skills among the New York National Guard in anticipation of future wars,” Smyth said, probably speaking very slowly. “They had nothing to do with the KKK or freed slaves.”
Suggesting that Black people packing heat was the key to our post-Civil War salvation isn’t just ahistorical. It’s grotesque. Black men, women, and children were lynched for looking the wrong way at white people. There is no scenario where Emmett Till avoids his fate if he or his loved ones point a rifle at an angry white mob.
Harlow looked bored and embarrassed during the whole scene with Ramaswamy. At one point, she started scrolling on her phone. CNN apparently agreed with Harlow, and internal sources said, “The incident left several CNN leaders exasperated.” It’s unclear how they would’ve preferred Lemon handle this. Maybe he should’ve kept his cool and cut away. Or maybe CNN should’ve just fired Lemon after he made gross, sexist comments about Nikki Haley. The network could’ve taken a firm stand against public expressions of misogyny rather than implying that a Black anchor should’ve just sat there while an entitled fool pissed on his racial history.
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