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Don Lemon
Don Lemon. Getty Images

If you’re catching up on the gossip of broadcast news and noticed social media discourse about a certain CNN This Morning host, you might be wondering what did Don Lemon do to land him in such hot water and eventually fired from his broadcast network.

The experienced broadcast journalist joined CNN in 2006 and even had his own show at one point—Don Lemon Tonight from 2014 to 2022. He’s the recipient of an Edward R. Murrow Award which recognizes outstanding achievements in electronic journalism as well as three regional Emmy Awards for his contribution to broadcast news. But he was forced to make an apology—several, in fact—and will undergo formal sensitivity training in light of what he said on-air on Thursday, February 16, 2023. Network CEO Chris Licht was so disappointed in Lemon’s comments that he issued a memo to CNN staffers on Monday, February 20 stating that the network “balances accountability with … fostering a culture in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes,” AP reported. Here’s what Don Lemon said and how CNN responded.

Why was Don Lemon fired from CNN?

Why was Don Lemon fired from CNN? No official reason for Lemon’s termination has been given but it’s fair to say it came without warning. “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 memo to staff on Monday, April 24, 2023. “We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors.”

Don Lemon
Don Lemon. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Lemon himself was blindsided by the news, releasing his own statement on Twitter shortly after the news broke. “I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN, I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly,” he said. “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. With that said, I want to thank my colleagues and the many teams I have worked with for an incredible run. They are the most talented journalists in the business and I wish them all the best.”

CNN rebutted Lemon, calling his version of events “inaccurate.” “He was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter,” the network said in a statement.

What did Don Lemon do?

What did Don Lemon do? On the Thursday, February 16, 2023, edition of CNN This Morning, the veteran journalist was responding to Presidential candidate and twice-elected Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Hayley, who called for “mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old,” which would include current President Biden, age 80, and former President Donald Trump, 76.

Lemon said he thought “it’s the wrong road to go down” because Haley, at 51 years old, “isn’t in her prime, sorry, a woman is considered in her prime in her 20s and 30s, maybe 40s.” His co-host Poppy Harlow challenged him: “I think we need to qualify. Are you talking about prime for childbearing or are you talking about prime for being president?” she asked. “Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what the facts are,” Lemon responded. He brought up the subject again an hour later and was rebutted by commentator Audie Cornish. “She’s in her prime for running for office,” Cornish said of Haley. “Political prime is what we’re talking about.”

Interestingly, if you Google “When is a woman in her prime”, the answer, at least in such definitive terms, isn’t there so we’re not quite sure to what “facts” Lemon is referring. Let’s also not forget the minimum age requirement for a presidential candidate is 35. Later that day, Lemon, presumably facing a barrage of criticism for what he said, made an initial apology on Twitter. “The reference I made to a woman’s ‘prime’ this morning was inartful and irrelevant, as colleagues and loved ones have pointed out, and I regret it,” Lemon wrote. “A woman’s age doesn’t define her either personally or professionally. I have countless women in my life who prove that every day.”

On an editorial call on the morning of Monday, February 20, Network CEO Chris Licht addressed Lemon’s comments. “His remarks were upsetting, unacceptable, and unfair to his co-hosts, and ultimately a huge distraction to the great work of this organization,” Licht told staffers, according to a readout of the call obtained by the Daily Beast. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I did not mean to offend anyone,” Lemon said on the call. “What I said came out wrong and I wish I hadn’t said it. I believe women of any age can do anything they set their minds to. The people I am closest to in this organization are women.” Licht added in the night memo that he’d “sat down with Don and had a frank and meaningful conversation. He has agreed to participate in formal training, as well as continuing to listen and learn. We take this situation very seriously,” per AP.

Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow, Kaitlan Collins
Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow, Kaitlan Collins. Image: CNN This Morning/YouTube

On Wednesday, February 2022, Lemon returned to CNN after taking a break over the long weekend. He tweeted early in the morning saying he was grateful to be returning to the small screen and issued another apology. “I appreciate the opportunity to be back on @CNNThisMorning today,” he tweeted shortly before going back on the air. “To my network, my colleagues and our incredible audience—I’m sorry. I’ve heard you, I’m learning from you, and I’m committed to doing better. See you soon.”

This is the second incident in which Lemon’s views on gender have raised eyebrows. During the broadcast of the World Cup, he and his co-hosts discussed the pay gap between men’s and women’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,” Lemon said on-air. “The men’s team makes more money because you know what, because people are more interested in the men.”

Harlow contributed by saying it’s not just football that has such a huge pay disparity but it’s across the board with many sports and it’s a systemic issue, not one that can be distilled in such finite terms as explained by Lemon. “I have a big issue with this, guys, WNBA — [the] same thing [is] happening to them. Until big media companies, big tech companies, [and] advertisers invest and put them on their airwaves more and allow people to see it more and gain more fans, then you will push toward more equality, but if they are blocked in so many ways and not invested in as much, they don’t even have a shot,” she said. “I’m not sexist,” Lemon responded. “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.”

Lemon was switched from his own prime-time show, Don Lemon Tonight, in 2022 when a revamped CNN This Morning launched in November. The ratings have been rather disastrous—the lowest for CNN in a decade, The Washington Examiner reported—and tensions between the hosts have boiled over since the new year began.

In early February 2023, reports surfaced that Lemon was allegedly “screaming” at Kaitlan Collins in an off-camera altercation in December, which left the cast and crew “rattled” ever since. According to sources quoted by the New York Post, Lemon approached Collins and “unloaded on her”, accusing her of “interrupting” him on air. “Don screamed at Kaitlan, who was visibly upset and ran out of the studio,” one source said. “At this point, Kaitlan wants to be on set with Don as little as possible,” another source said. “It’s messy.” A rep from CNN declined to comment on the incident but said: “In just three months, these anchors have created a compelling morning show that breaks news and drives the conversation.”

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