Don Lemon Is Proof Chris Cuomo Was the Rule at CNN, Not the Exception

Photo by Jason Mendez/Invision/AP

I will probably continue to say this over and over again, but… all of the negative headlines about CNN aren’t some media warfare, conservatives pouncing, or anything like that. These negative stories are part of the continuing Zucker problem at the network.

This is a direct result of the atmosphere established by Zucker at CNN. His attitude regarding building up the audience rather than focusing on increasing the quality of the journalism made an anchor feel so untouchable that he could abuse his position to help his politician brother cover up a sexual harassment scandal and even go after the accusers. And he could get his show’s staff in on the dirty work.

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Had Zucker been remotely interested in the quality of the journalism rather than the number of viewers or the shares of a story on social media, he would have perhaps put a stop to it. But his focus has always been on production and entertainment. Note that Zucker has never been held accountable for the Matt Lauer situation, despite not only being there but joking about it at a roast of Lauer later. Everyone knew about Lauer, and as someone who was at NBC for decades, Zucker knew and did nothing.

The problem is becoming more and more evident. Chris Cuomo is now planning to sue the network because he feels he did nothing wrong (or because he believes Zucker is lying about what he did and didn’t know and boy will that be fun to watch). Their most-watched time slot is now without an anchor.

On top of that, Don Lemon continues to do what Cuomo did as an anchor: He offers little in the way of actual news and journalism and continues to launch partisan attacks from behind a news anchor’s desk, while the network’s credibility continues to suffer. On top of that, Lemon was sued for sexual assault two years ago by a man named Dustin Hice, but the network has overwhelmingly ignored that story while supporting their other key prime-time host.

CNN's Don Lemon texted Jussie Smollet during his hoax investigation.
Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Now, Lemon is in the news again, this time as Jussie Smollet, the actor on trial for a hate crime hoax, namedrops him during his testimony.

But that isn’t all. Jussie Smollett may have just thrown Lemon under the bus during his testimony today. Smollett testified that he’d been in contact with Don Lemon during the early part of the Chicago Police Department’s investigation into the phony attack on him. He testified that one of the reasons he didn’t want to turn over his phone to the police during the investigation was because Don Lemon texted him that the Chicago Police didn’t believe his account of what happened. Lemon has already said that he was in constant contact with Smollett early on in the case and that the story was “personal” to him.

This is now twice that two key CNN anchors have gone above and beyond the realm of journalism and gotten themselves involved with major stories going on. There are serious ethical questions here.

Depending on the timeline of these texts, it would appear that Lemon, like Cuomo, got involved by using his sources to then relay information to someone who was accused of a crime. Like Cuomo, he was personally attached to the case. And, like Cuomo (initially), he isn’t being made to answer for it right now. In fact, some folks are throwing as much cover as they can. Like this column at Mediaite.

First of all, texting a subject who is in the news is how a lot of reporting gets done. If an anchor is trying to prepare someone for an interview or get them on their show, it is entirely expected to exchange information about the story, which in this instance appears to be the fact that the police didn’t believe his story.

It’s not clear when Smollett and Lemon texted about this development in the story, but it was a widely believed conceit within roughly a week of the story breaking.

The writer conveniently is ignoring some facts here:

  1. We do know what Smollet says Lemon texted him, and it is on Lemon to confirm or disprove that.
  2. Lemon did say he texted Smollet, but he did not give specifics on what he said to the actor.

Lemon is compromised by his proximity to the case, and any coverage he gave or will give to it is tainted coverage. He cannot be allowed to report on it much in the same way that Cuomo should not have been allowed to cover his brother.

And, we know how this will work, because we just saw it with Cuomo: Lemon won’t be asked to give more details on it, he will likely choose to give broad/vague responses if he decides to address it, and we won’t really find anything out unless more details of the investigation are leaked. Because, like Cuomo, Lemon must be protected. He was as much of Zucker’s plan as Cuomo was. The goal was to put people in the prime time spots that can draw attention and eyes, which would translate to more viewers.

But that came at the cost of actual standards of journalism and actual reporting. Lemon and Cuomo feel themselves above those standards and above any sort of rules. This wasn’t just a case of Lemon texting a friend, but actively trying to help him out. CNN should investigate this matter and give us some transparency.

…Not that I expect them to, but it would still be nice to see.