CNN's Lemon Problem

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, … [His] place shall never be with those … timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat [because they never get in the arena].

       --Theodore Roosevelt, Paris, April 23, 1910

Don Lemon, whose brain may have disappeared into a near earth-orbiting black hole around the time of the November 2016 election, is in trouble again and may lose his job, with his absurd insensitive remark, referring to “person of color” Nikki Haley, upon her announcement that she is running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, that a woman is only “in her prime” in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.  (Note, by the way, that a confused Don Lemon claimed that that was the facts but that he was not saying he agreed with it.)  Equally absurdly, Lemon stated that one can verify this on Google.  Apparently, if Google says its true then it must be true.  In fact, one gets a far more nuanced view even on Google but nuance is not Lemon’s strong point.

Bill O’Reilly makes a partially correct but partially incorrect defense of Lemon’s right to keep his job. 

O’Reilly correctly stated that Lemon has a long history of absurd claims and that his recent statement is “preposterous” but adds that “The United States no longer has free speech. You will be punished if you say something ‘offensive.’ Lemon may lose his job.”  In fact, firing Lemon over this scandal has nothing to do with free speech.  But before considering O’Reilly’s claim, consider first Lemon’s statement.

Lemon, like many talking-heads on television, should have known that he was on thin ice when he made any statement about a woman’s prime without stating upon what axis he is measuring them.  Poppy Harlow asked the correct question, which never occurred to Lemon:  Prime for what?  When Lemon limits a woman’s prime to her 20s-40s he is assuming the sexist view that a woman is good only for sexual attractiveness (not his expertise) and baby-making.   Unfortunately, Lemon appears to have forgotten that women have these things called brains that continue to function well into their old age. 

The incomparable Polish scientist Marie Curie (1867-1943) had more than her share of accomplishments in her 20s, 30s, and 40s, still being the only person of either gender to win two Nobel prizes in two different areas, Physics and Chemistry, for, among other things, her discoveries of radium and polonium. But she also founded the Marie Curie Institute in Paris at the age of 53 and, during World War I, in her 50s, developed mobile X-ray units to service battlefield hospitals (saving thousands of wounded soldiers from death and disfigurement).  Not bad for an old bag past her prime.

One might also consider the incomparable Margaret Thatcher who also had her share of accomplishments in her 20s, 30s, and 40s but who became the longest serving British Prime Minister in the modern era, who won the Falklands War fought thousands of miles from the British Isles, who initiated free market reforms that made ordinary Britons' lives better, and so many other things.  Of course, the Thatcher example is a problematic one for what remains of the “liberals” to acknowledge, both because she was a conservative and because she was smarter and stronger than any of them (yes, any of them, and not just because she took a degree in chemistry during her student days at Oxford. According to Wikipedia: "She was reportedly prouder of becoming the first prime minister with a science degree than becoming the first female prime minister").

One might also consider the incomparable Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, who, in the absence of any male heirs to the throne, became queen of England and ruled for decades with such distinction that the Elizabethan Age, the age of the Renaissance and Shakespeare, are named after her.  It is ironic that Henry VIII , who subscribed to the Lemon view of a women’s utility, wrongfully beheaded Ann Boleyn because she did not provide him with a son, but it was Boleyn’s red-haired daughter Elizabeth who eventually demolished the Lemon-Henry VIII view of women’s limitations. 

There are, of course, plenty of other examples of women in the 50s and beyond who have made major contributions to the world, but it is important not to fall into Lemon’s trap of measuring women only by their professional accomplishments.  Lemon also apparently forgot that there are these things called mothers, who sometimes give birth in their 30s or 40s and raise children to responsible adulthood into their 50s and then continue to support them into their 60s and beyond.  That is, it is important not to assume the Lemon-Henry VIII view that women are useful only for making babies but that they are also useful for this thing called “mothering” which, although not much admired by the new embarrassing narcissistic generation, is one of that small number of things that should be viewed with unreserved veneration.

O’Reilly is correct that Lemon’s statement is “preposterous” but he is wrong that firing Lemon would be a violation of Lemon’s freedom of speech.  There is a constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech even to say stupid things for all American citizens (except for most Republicans and conservatives), but there is no constitutional guarantee of the right to do so as an overpaid television presenter on some alleged “news” channel.   If Lemon is fired, which may have happened at this point, it will, first, not be for this one remark but for a long history of stupid, insensitive and racist remarks, including, of course, his comical statement that it should be up to journalists to decide what is true and what is not.  Second, if fired, he can continue to state his opinions with the innumerable grinning “selfies” he posts on his Facebook page.  He can give talks here and there to anyone who will have him.  He can write a book.  He might even land another position on one of the innumerable left-wing channels that specialize in infantile partisan smears.  He just won’t get paid to do it on CNN.  The First Amendment is irrelevant to the issue of firing Lemon.

It is, finally, worth noting that the television personalities that make a career of smearing people are often far less accomplished than the people they smear.  Although there have been great television presenters, Walter Cronkite, Tim Russert and Edward R. Murrow, et al., being a television personality per se, spewing opinions, giggling at people one dislikes, is not a great accomplishment in itself.  All too often lately, television panels of “experts” brings back distressing memories of the ninth grade, or maybe the third grade, lunch table.  It is important to remember that those who can, do.  They build things, space telescopes, books filled with haunting poetry, even hotels and golf courses.  Those who cannot build anything stand on the side lines and generally criticize people who are much more impressive than they themselves are.

Image: Fuzheado, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

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