Pssst! CNN! Don Lemon Was Drunk On The Job On New Years Eve, And It Matters

Drunk Lemon

The news media and social media apparently thinks its funny that CNN’s Don Lemon, one of the network’s hosts of the New Year’s dawning, an unexpected event about as newsworthy as the sun coming up, was not only drunk as a skunk most of the night but didn’t seem to care who knew it.

I think the yearly breathless coverage of the Times Square festivities is boring, dumb and stupid (People keep saying they are so excited. What are they excited about? If a big ugly ball doing exactly what you knew it would do at midnight really excites you, your life has run off the road into a muddy ditch, and I pity you), so I only cruised by the CNN coverage around 10 PM. Lemon co-hosted the network’s New Year’s Eve special with correspondent Brooke Baldwin at Tipitina’s bar in New Orleans., and had that look in his eyes and that tone in his voice that I know too well. This surprised me, but I didn’t feel like beginning 2016 with a train wreck, so I decided to watch “Rain Man” with my wife, who had never seen it. (We haven’t been invited to a New Years Eve party since 1982.)

By all accounts, Lemon was indeed smashed, and left his judgment, manners and good sense in those cups of champagne, beer and heaven knows what else he was guzzling all night. Some of the evidence, other than how he looked and sounded, which was plenty…

  • “We are not drunk! Well, Brooke is not drunk,” Lemon happily exclaimed at one point.
  • After shock-comic  Kathy Griffin, who was hosting with Anderson Cooper in New York’s Times Square,took off her jacket,  Lemon blurted out that she had a “nice rack.” Classy.
  • “I didn’t know you had all of that going on up there,” Lemon then said as Griffin’s co-host, Anderson Cooper shook his head. He shouldn’t be shaking it—agreeing to appear on camera with the likes of Griffin is almost as degrading to his profession as Lemon being giddily hammered on camera.
  • “Cutting him off, cutting him off!'” Baldwin said while snatching away Lemon’s  beer and telling the camera ‘”Let’s go this way,” as in, ‘away from my drunk colleague.’
  • Holding Mardi Gras beads while sharing the screen with Griffin and Anderson, Lemon said,  “Kathy, here’s how we get people to take their clothes off’!”
  • Interviewing revelers at the bar, Lemon was told by one couple that they were celebrating their anniversary, so Lemon reacted by saying, ‘You got married? Why on earth would you ever do that?…What’s wrong with you? Why did you get married?”
  • Then he pushed the couple aside, saying, “All right move out-of-the-way, let me talk to some more interesting people.”
  • He asked another patron who had the initials AA on a sticker on his shirt, if he was an alcoholic.
  • Lemon regaled the revelers and viewers with his account of the last time he was in the bar as a student at Louisiana State University: “I was in college. And I ended up going home with not a lot of clothes on.”
  • Though he didn’t sink to trying to sing old sea shanties or “Melancholy Baby” like the drunks in old movies, Lemon was moved to rap, evoking a Vine video, “I got that bubbly, I got that bubbly, I got that I got that, I got that bubbly…”‘

Yes, Lemon was sloshed. On the air. On the job.

Naturally, lots of tweeters and bloggers thought this was just hilarious and endearing, just as they would probably react with admiration if President Obama turned up stoned for his State of the Union address. The fact that too many Americans are juvenile dummies who don’t care about proper deportment, responsibility and professionalism, and who think impairment is cool, doesn’t excuse a supposed news network from validating their stupidity, or allowing an anchor to debase journalism and to send the message that being smashed on the job is acceptable. Drunks on the job cost businesses millions and occasionally get people killed. Being drunk on the job is always wrong, unless you are a paid drunk. I don’t know any of those.

It does not mitigate this display of vulgarity and lack of responsibility by CNN’s star talking head that he decided to toss all restraint and proper on-the-air conduct to the winds the second he had a colorable excuse. CNN is as irresponsible as Lemon: once he started misbehaving and embarrassing the network (assuming they know what embarrassment in broadcast journalism is, which I now doubt), someone should have ordered him off the air, or cut the feed to New Orleans.

The rude “rack” comment was enough to mandate this. What gentleman says “nice rack” to any woman, ever, much less on national television, in the role of a journalist? If Donald Trump said that to a woman on the air—and I’m sure he will—CNN would be handing out pitchforks and torches.

I don’t want to hear how Griffin is “fair game,” being in the business of saying outrageous things (later in the broadcast, she queried Cooper, who is gay, about whether he had romantic designs on Caitlyn Jenner.) Griffin is a comedian. Lemon is, or is supposed to be, a serious journalist. He is, and must be, held to a higher standard.

Lemon has earned respect and notoriety by speaking frankly about race and other touchy matters in ways that most of his colleagues do not have the courage or integrity to emulate. Why would anyone take his views as coming from a respectable and rational commentator after watching him act like a Delta House member  for three hours on New Years Eve? I know I won’t. He’s a self-indulgent fool with insufficient respect for (let’s see now) his profession, his employers, his colleagues, his viewers, recovering alcoholics, women, marriage, and himself.

CNN imposes discipline on its “talent” approximately never, as the free pass given to Carol Costello after mocking an assault on Bristol Palin demonstrated for all. Lemon, moreover, has triple armor: he’s black, he’s gay, and he’s a rock star. This is a likely “Star Syndrome” scenario, or “The King’s Pass.” An ethical news organization would at least suspend Lemon and require an on-air apology. An ethical journalist would, in fact, apologize without being forced. But an ethical journalist wouldn’t get bombed on the job.

I don’t have a lot of hope that either Lemon or CNN will do the right thing.

17 thoughts on “Pssst! CNN! Don Lemon Was Drunk On The Job On New Years Eve, And It Matters

  1. ‘agreeing to appear on camera with the likes of Griffin is almost as degrading to his profession as Lemon being giddily hammered on camera’

    Agreed. She’s despicable. And then there’s this:

    ‘Interviewing revelers at the bar, Lemon was told by one couple that they were celebrating their anniversary, so Lemon reacted by saying, ‘You got married? Why on earth would you ever do that?…What’s wrong with you? Why did you get married?”’

    Sorry Don, you lost me there. Tell me again why it was so existentially important gay marriage be recognized as a Constitutionally guaranteed right?

  2. Well, it should be interesting to see whether, and to what extent, he apologizes. And whether he’s suspended.

    Newscasters wanting to be entertainers never ends well. I think this whole problem started with Sam Donaldson, and to some extent, Howard Cosell, but maybe even the sainted Edward R. Murrows and Chet Huntleys and David Brinkleys and Walter Cronkites let the camel get its nose into the tent. Big egos. Big salaries. For reading teleprompters.

  3. It appears that Brooke Baldwin was the only one of the CNN crew who had any claim to integrity that night. As for Lemon himself, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t wasted on air more often than this. He has so exceeded the limits of his competence that he must need an occasional snort to push the reality out of his mind.

    • Which is a crying shame, because every now and again he’s a truth-teller, and on a Network that isn’t always prepared to have the truth told. But we shouldn’t have to sift through episodes like this to find competent journalism ethics.

    • You can’t be serious. Are you? You really think that those assigned to cover a New Years Party are allowed to drink like they were normal attendees? Do you feel the same about reporters covering riots? Looting? Should reporters at party conventions cheer for candidates? Would it have been fine with you if Lemon vomited on someone? Passed out?

      Joe Namath was fired for doing a TV sideline interview while bombed, and hitting on a fellow reporter, as in “Nice rack!” Was Joe allowed to be bombed because a lot of people in the stands were? Have you ever heard of the term “professionalism”? Do you think before writing comments like this?

      • What on earth is wrong with you? My comment was referring to your aside about not being invited to a party since 1982. I thought that was pretty obvious Jack. I guess I should have joked, “What did you do in 1981?”

        I don’t think we need a post about being drunk on TV. Obviously, no one should be drunk on TV. Sheesh.

        • I apologize, Beth, but I think if you read the comment with the post, you can see that my interpretation of your meaning, which was “I guess you haven’t been to New Years Parties much: everybody get drunk” and thus a defense of Lemon, was not unreasonable, especially since about half the online comments on the story defend Lemon just that way. The last thing on my mind as I read your comment was my offhand mention of never going to New Years parties. Frankly, I forgot it was there.

          Maybe this is WHY nobody invites me to New Years parties.

  4. He probably should have kept it in check a little better, but let’s not overreact here. It is New Year’s Eve after all, and if my mind serves me, at a republican debate, candidates for the presidency (one of which who won) discussed their penis sizes. Don Lemon goes no where or whatever is left of CNN ratings tank. I’m sure he will apologize for his comments that were inappropriate. And Yeah Jack, I would not invite you to a any party. Get a life.

    • Ladies and Gentlemen, our first Rationalization #22 of 2017! Echo, if you are going to use Trump’s conduct as the basis for comparison, then almost everyone gets a free pass. Horrible ethics reasoning: check the EA Rationalizations list. Better yet, here’s the Rationalization you just used, the worst of them all.:

      22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

      If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

      Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

      2. Wait: was Don drunk this year too????

    Don Lemon of CNN was clearly drunk on air for 3 +hours on 12/31/16.On air news Journalists should be role models and maintain decency to retain their credibility on air. Being drunk on air is not funny.
    CNN should suspend Don Lemon and see that he receive help for a possible drinking problem.

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