After Sexist Comments, Is Don Lemon's Future At CNN In Jeopardy?

Don Lemon on CNN.
(Image credit: CNN)

Cable news anchors like those at CNN and Fox News are well-known for voicing strongly worded opinions on all things political. However, when their comments cross over into other topics, that can lead to big trouble behind the scenes, and that seems to be the case for longtime CNN journalist Don Lemon. The host issued an apology for saying on February 16 that Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley “is not in her prime,” drawing protests from his co-hosts and the general public alike. Lemon has been absent from CNN This Morning since making the sexist comments, so is his future with CNN in jeopardy?

It’s unknown at this point what long-term effects Don Lemon’s comments will have on his career, but The Wrap reports that the anchor’s absence from CNN This Morning on Friday, February 17 was a scheduled day off. Following the backlash from his musings on former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's age, Lemon “chose to extend his vacation time through the Presidents Day holiday.” It’s unknown if a return date has been discussed.

Don Lemon has been with CNN since 2006 and serves as a co-anchor on the network’s morning show alongside Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. During the February 16 broadcast, Lemon spoke about the 2024 presidential hopeful, who is 51, in response to Nikki Haley’s call for mental competency tests for politicians older than 75. 

His suggestion that Nikki Haley was not “in her prime” drew immediate pushback from Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, but the host attempted to defend his statement by invoking Google and saying: 

If you Google when is a woman in her prime, it’ll say 20s, 30s and 40s. I’m not saying I agree with that, but she has to be careful about saying that…

He reportedly even doubled-down on his statement in the next hour. Along with angering his colleagues and many viewers, Don Lemon also apparently drew the ire of CNN CEO Chris Licht, who The Wrap insiders say was “furious.” At the network’s Friday editorial meeting, Licht called the comments “unacceptable” and “unfair to his co-hosts.” 

CNN reports that Don Lemon was then allowed to address his colleagues in the virtual meeting, where he issued an apology. The journalist said:  

I’m sorry that I said it. And I certainly see why people found it completely misguided. When I make a mistake, I own it. And I own this one as well. … I believe that women of any age… can do whatever they set their minds to. The people I am closest to in this organization are women. The people I seek counsel from most in this organization are women.

With the anchor’s leave apparently being extended from what was scheduled before the controversy, we’ll have to see what Chris Licht’s next move will be. Reports say the CNN CEO has been under pressure in regards to Don Lemon because of past problematic behavior from the host. Lemon was involved in an assault lawsuit that was suddenly dropped in 2022, in which he had been accused of “emotional pain and suffering” due to “aggression and hostility.” 

There have also been instances of tense moments with his co-anchors, and Don Lemon has a long track record of making odd comments. Past incidents include talking about comedian Kathy Griffin’s “rack” in 2016 and, more recently, taking a Stephen Colbert joke about his outfit a little too seriously.

We’ll have to see if Don Lemon returns to his regularly scheduled programming this week, or if CNN chooses to take further action. In his absence, Sara Sidner is filling in for Lemon. You can tune in to CNN This Morning on weekdays at 6 p.m. ET., and be sure to check out our 2023 TV schedule to see what premieres are coming your way soon. 

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.