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.