CNN news anchor Don Lemon said attacks on journalism forced him to be an advocate for the truth, which is something he didn’t expect for himself years ago.
Lemon is the host of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. He spoke to a couple hundred members of the University of North Texas community Thursday evening as a part of the Distinguished Lecture Series, which brings notable speakers to campus each year.
This year’s speakers have focused on activism, according to the series’ website. For Lemon, his activism is in telling the truth and reporting facts in a time when he said being a journalist is important in the United States.
“It has always been our role as journalists to seek and promote the truth and not to promote alternative facts and propaganda,” Lemon said. “But lately, that’s under attack.”
Later during the question and answer session, Lemon said the public’s loss of faith in news media stems from loss of faith in other institutions and following the words of leaders they support. Lemon said that’s rooted in ideology.
“It was not what I intended, that my profession would constantly be under attack from the Oval Office and from masses of Americans,” Lemon said. “I thought I had a job and a profession that was protected under the Constitution of the United States — under the very First Amendment.”
Lemon said his job as an advocate for the truth also means pointing out discrimination based on sex, race, sexual orientation and religion. Although there are daily attacks on the news media, Lemon said it encourages him to do better with his job.
“It is my job to let you know that [journalism] is not about political ideologies,” Lemon said. “This is about right versus wrong. This is about the real fake news, which comes from multiple places, including the White House.”
Lemon later added that calling the president and other government officials a liar is not something he takes lightly and it’s something he has to back up with multiple facts.
Trump tweeted Lemon was “the dumbest man on television” last year. When Lemon was asked about his reaction, he made a motion of brushing something off his shoulder after recalling how he found out.
Lemon let the comment roll off his back, he said. The discussion took a lighter note when he said “haters gonna hate” to the next question, about how Lemon deals with haters, making the audience laugh and applaud.
In the digital age, Lemon said people can get inundated with facts and people are more engaged now. While some can simply turn off the TV or close out of a tab, journalists can’t do that, he said.
His solution is to not watch the news when he’s not at work. Lemon said he gets himself back up to speed when he goes back to work on Mondays and does not talk about work at home.
The conversation also took a turn to Lemon’s personal life during the question and answer session. A few questions were about sexual orientation — how Lemon’s sexuality shaped him and what advice he had for young, LGBTQ black boys.
Growing up black and gay in the Deep South was painful because keeping secrets is a burden, Lemon said. He grew up in a religious family that believed homosexuality was a sin.
“It was something that I kept to myself — a secret that I had for a long time,” Lemon said. “It was another reason I got out of Louisiana. I wanted to be myself completely and open.”
Lemon’s weekday show airs at 10 p.m., and he was still in Denton when it was time to go on. He reported from the North Texas Television studio.