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Don Lemon booted from CNN after sexist remarks

CNN anchor Don Lemon
CNN anchor Don Lemon Photo: Screenshot

CNN just announced that out host Don Lemon will no longer be working for them.

“Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years,” said CNN CEO Chris Licht in a statement. “We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors.”

Lemon said he was surprised that he lost his job after months of controversies.

“I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN,” he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me this directly. At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network. It is clear that there are some larger issues at play.”

He did not elaborate on what those “larger issues” could be, but it is possible that they include the network taking his reported behind-the-scenes behavior more seriously.

Lemon, 57, joined CNN in 2006 and hosted Don Lemon Tonight from 2014 to 2022. In 2022, he co-hosted the network’s new show CNN This Morning with Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow.

Lemon has faced intense scrutiny since his comments on February 19 where he said that former South Carolina Gov. and Trump administration official Nikki Haley was past her “prime” after she announced her presidential campaign. The comments were widely panned as misogynist.

“She says people, you know, politicians or something are not in their prime,” Lemon said, referring to how Haley proposed a competency test for President Joe Biden. “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”

Harlow and Collins, with whom Lemon has a reportedly tense working relationship, were visibly stunned by his comments.

“I’m not saying I agree with that,” Lemon continued. “I think she has to be careful about saying that, you know, politicians aren’t in their prime.”

“Are you talking about ‘prime’ for childbearing?” Harlow asked. “Or are you talking about ‘prime’ for being president?”

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Lemon replied. “I’m just saying what the facts are. Google it.”

Later in the show, CNN correspondent Audie Cornish also pushed back, telling Lemon that “the idea of ‘prime’ that you Google on the internet” relates to “sexual and reproductive prime.” Lemon, however, claimed he was responding to Haley’s call for mandatory competency tests for politicians over the age of 75.

Lemon did not appear on CNN’s morning show for the rest of that week. He issued an apology on Twitter and in an editorial meeting.

The controversial comments followed others he made in December 2022 on the same show, where he said that male athletes should make more money than female athletes because there is more interest in men’s sports.

“I know everyone’s gonna hate me, but the men’s team makes more money. If they make more money, then they should get more money,” he said. “The men’s team makes more money because, you know what, because people are more interested in the men.”

After Harlow pushed back and said that women’s sports don’t get the same coverage or sponsorships that men’s sports get, Lemon doubled down and said he can’t be sexist because there were a lot of women in his family.

“I’m not sexist,” he said. “I grew up the only boy in a family of all women. I understand what you’re saying, but not everybody honestly has the same skill – not everybody has the same interest in the sport.”

Earlier this month, Variety reported on Lemon’s history of clashing with female colleagues, dating back to 2008 when he co-anchored CNN’s Live From with Kyra Phillips.

Sources told the magazine that he was so incensed when Phillips was tapped to report from Iraq that he tore up pictures and notes that were on and inside his co-anchor’s desk. More disturbingly, two threatening text messages from an unknown number that Phillips received were later reportedly traced back to Lemon.

“Now you’ve crossed the line, and you’re going to pay for it,” one of the messages reportedly read.

The report also said Lemon called one female producer fat to her face and mocked fellow CNN star Nancy Grace on-air. During an editorial call, Lemon also allegedly suggested that Soledad O’Brien was not Black after she landed a gig hosting the network’s 2008 Black in America docuseries.

“Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things, so it sounds pretty on brand for him,” O’Brien, who was not present on the call, said.

Another source described Lemon’s off-air behavior as “diva-like.” His complaints on social media about fellow anchor Anderson Cooper getting more airtime during coverage of Michael Jackson’s 2009 memorial led to what one former senior CNN executive called a “come-to-Jesus moment.”

“Don was told, ‘Look, you’ve got to address your behavior. Your performance as a reporter is great. It’s your behavior that’s gotta improve. It’s what’s going to derail you if you’re not careful,’” the former exec said.

Update: CNN disagrees with Lemon’s statement that his only option to be told was via his agent.

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