Don Lemon will return as anchor of CNN This Morning on Wednesday, albeit with some serious caveats.
According to CNN, network Chief Executive Chris Licht sent employees an email on Monday describing a “frank and meaningful” conversation with Lemon in which the loose-lipped anchor agreed to participate in what he called “formal training,” although he did not elaborate on what that would entail. “It is important to me that CNN balances accountability with… fostering a culture in which people can own, learn, and grow from their mistakes,” Licht stated.
Lemon has been absent from the broadcast since last Thursday, after calling 51-year-old former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley past her prime on air. What began as a classic foot-in-the-mouth moment quickly spiraled when Lemon doubled down on his claims, telling co-anchors Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, who challenged him, to “Google it… Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what the facts are.”
Though Lemon’s suddenly tone-deaf commentary was triggered by discussion of Haley’s own controversial demands for mandatory competency tests for older politicians, both CNN colleagues and audience members were quick to denounce Lemon’s comments as equally problematic. Harlow and Collins continued to push Lemon on air, while everyone from Patrician Heaton to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had words for the anchor.
Hey Ladies – @donlemon thinks women over 50 are past their prime! Let’s start #primetime and list some of the things we’ve accomplished in these glorious later years. I’ll start:
– Produced the comedy feature Unexpected (available on iTunes/AmazinPrime) #primetime
— Patricia Heaton (@PatriciaHeaton) February 17, 2023
Don – we know your heart was in the right place.
I think you were referencing women being in their prime during their “reproductive years”.
Women are always in their “prime” because in my opinion, they get stronger, more courageous and more beautiful as they get older.
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) February 16, 2023
Haley, meanwhile, has seized the moment as a fundraising opportunity, peddling merchandise emblazoned with “Past My Prime?” as a campaign rallying cry.
For all of you who took issue with the haters saying that we are past our prime… this one’s for you.
We’ve got this. 👊🏽🇺🇸
Order yours today: https://t.co/iGXhvfdzom pic.twitter.com/VIbPn6YcL7
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 21, 2023
Lemon’s comments even made it as far as the White House, when press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sidestepped a question about the anchor’s bizarre bungle, using it as a chance to discuss the crucial role of women in the Biden administration.
Though Lemon was quick to backtrack on his comments on Twitter, calling his words “inartful” and “irrelevant”— and apologizing to colleagues in an editorial meeting, saying, “When I make a mistake, I own it. And I own this one as well”—the backlash went deep. According to the New York Times, Lemon was the subject of a tense editorial call, where Licht told staff, “His remarks were upsetting, unacceptable and unfair to his co-hosts, and ultimately a huge distraction to the great work of this organization.”
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. A woman’s age doesn't define her either personally or professionally. I have countless women in my life who prove that every day.
— Don Lemon (@donlemon) February 16, 2023
Though Licht didn’t go into details regarding the training Lemon will have to undergo, according to the Los Angeles Times, a CNN representative said Lemon was committed to following network recommendations and resources.
This is not the first blemish on Lemon’s record as anchor. In December, Kaitlan Collins had to leave the set when Lemon screamed at her off-camera for allegedly interrupting him on air. And previously, in September, Lemon asked commentator S.E. Cupp if she had “mommy brain” when she lost her train of thought during an interview.
While Lemon has dismissed rumors of his potential firing following this latest controversy, the show’s struggle for ratings may still leave prove to be an issue that no training can fix.
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