This isn’t the first time the TV personality has sparked backlash.
CNN anchor Don Lemon is back on the network less than a week after arguing on-air that 2024 Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley wasn’t “in her prime.”
In what marked a proverbial slap on the wrist, the network says Lemon has agreed to first undergo “formal training” to address the sexist comments that rankled his fellow co-hosts, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, as well as others within the network.
“It is important to me that CNN balances accountability with fostering a culture in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes,” the network’s chief executive, Chris Licht wrote in a short, 75-word memo. “To that end, Don will return to CNN This Morning on Wednesday.”
Lemon hasn’t been on-air since Thursday when he made the remarks about Haley. Though it appears the debacle happened right before the TV personality’s planned vacation, some insiders say the network decided to pull him off the air while they contemplated how to handle the tense situation.
But now, it appears that working conditions at the network has largely returned to the status quo. Shortly before his return on Wednesday, Lemon apologized on Twitter but he made no mention of his remarks about Haley during CNN This Morning.
In case you missed the uproar, here’s a breakdown of what he said and why some believe it’s part of a pattern.
What did Don Lemon say…this time?
The ordeal all started during a discussion on CNN This Morning about Haley’s suggestion that politicians over age 75 should be subject to “mental competency tests,” in an apparent dig at former President Trump and President Biden, who are both older than that threshold.
Lemon, who’s 56, responded by saying Haley was past her “prime,” which he defined as a woman who’s “in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s.” That’s when Harlow quickly pushed back by saying, “I think you need to put on qualifiers, like prime for like child-bearing.” But instead of backing down, the longtime CNN personality responded with, “Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying Google what the facts are.” Lemon doubled down even more during a follow-up segment with colleague Audie Cornish. “I’m going to continue to be who I am,” he added at one point.
Following intense public backlash, Lemon took to Twitter to issue an apology the same day, calling his earlier remarks “inartful and irrelevant.” But the apology only seemed to prompt even more fury across social media and within CNN. Licht reportedly condemned Lemon during an editorial meeting on Friday, calling his remarks “upsetting, unacceptable, and unfair,” according to The New York Times.
“Everyone’s gonna hate me”
Some of his colleagues were less than thrilled about the way the network responded to Lemon’s remarks, saying his colleagues’ feelings should’ve been taken into account. “CNN should’ve been focusing on Kaitlan and Poppy instead of Don,” one source at the network told The Daily Beast.
Still, Lemon’s latest comments didn’t come as a surprise to others. Another unnamed CNN staffer told The Daily Beast that his on-air behavior marked the “latest insult” from the anchor. As you may remember, Lemon sparked a similar outcry last December — and once again irked his fellow co-hosts — by claiming that the U.S. men’s soccer team deserved to be paid more than the women’s team because they are bringing in more money and there’s more “interest.”
“Everyone’s gonna hate me,” he prefaced his point before continuing, “the men’s team makes more money…then they should get more money.” Though that was a widely used argument against the case for equal pay, which was eventually granted, the U.S. Women’s Soccer generated $1.9 million more in revenue than men’s games in 2016 alone, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“The men’s team makes more money because you know what, because people are more interested in the men,” he said on-air.
Nikki Haley’s response to Don Lemon
Meanwhile, Haley appears to be taking Lemon’s comments in stride, even using his age comments to her advantage. On Tuesday, she announced that her campaign was selling beer koozies with the phrase “Past Her Prime” emblazoned across the front.
You could argue that the former UN ambassador is taking a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook. In 2016, the former Democratic presidential nominee began selling merch inspired by Trump calling her “such a nasty woman.” But either way, it’s not a bad way to take back the narrative.