Don Lemon’s Sag Harbor Respite

Don Lemon, host of CNN Tonight, shares stories from the news trenches and details of his strategically sleepy life in the Hamptons.
Photo by Brian Downey

Interview by Alex Matthiessen

Alex Matthiessen
Where did you grow up?

Don Lemon: In a little place called Port Allen, Louisiana, west of Baton Rouge.

AM: Do you get back to Louisiana often?

DL: I try to. But now I have this great place in Sag Harbor that I love going to. Every day I have off, I’m out there. I feel like I sleep in the city but I live in Sag Harbor.

AM: So you’re a real local now?

DL: I’m a local, yeah! Don’t you think? Can you remember Sag Harbor without me?

AM: Scarcely. How did you end up in Sag Harbor?

DL: I think there’s something spiritual about it. I loved it before I even went there.

AM: What are your favorite things to do on the East End?

DL: Besides sleeping? Going to the beach, paddleboarding, jumping on somebody else’s boat—it’s the best kind of boat to have. But mostly, I just like hanging around the village. Going to the hardware store, three to four times a day, to the harbor, to my neighbors’, to a restaurant. I just love hanging out in Sag Harbor.

AM: When did you know that you wanted to be a journalist or get into television?

DL: I always knew that I was sort of meant for this. I wasn’t sure if it was gonna be journalism, or if I was gonna be an actor or some sort of entertainer or performer. And I was a news junkie early on, as a kid. I always wanted to be like Peter Jennings or Max Robinson. The funny thing is that later, at LSU, my journalism professor told me I wouldn’t make it as a journalist. So I owe a debt of gratitude to my professor for making me want to prove him wrong.

AM: Who was your role model as you were coming up in the business?

DL: Bryant Gumbel was my inspiration. In recent years, Jeff Zucker at CNN has been a mentor. Early on, he told me: “I have you here to be yourself. Just relax, be smart, and be you.”

AM: What do you like most and least about your job?

DL: I love that my job is in real time. What the country and the world is engaged in is what I spend my day talking about. I like being able to answer people’s questions, to help educate people on current events. What I hate most is the ideology around politics today. I don’t like dealing in left versus right. The truth is the truth. We should be operating around the truth, not around ideology.

AM: Do you have one interview as an anchor on CNN that was particularly memorable?

DL: The school shooting in Newtown was the most heart-wrenching event I’ve ever covered and the moment where I thought we would actually do something to stop the senseless violence. And nothing happened. But I was very proud of my reporting because I was tasked with dealing with the families, the communities and the mourning. Everybody else got to cover the nuts and bolts of what happened, but I got to cover the heart of the story.

AM: If you weren’t a news anchor and TV personality, what would you be?

DL: I’d be a designer or an actor. Or a supermodel.