By David Bauder
Longtime CNN host Don Lemon is out at the cable news network a little over two months after apologizing to viewers for on-air comments about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, CNN announced Monday
“CNN and Don have parted ways,” CNN chair and CEO Chris Licht said in a memo to staff that was also posted on the network's communications Twitter account. “Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years. We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors.”
CNN did not provide a public explanation for Lemon's departure. But on the “CNN This Morning” co-host's own Twitter account, Lemon contended the news came as a surprise to him and characterized it as a firing. He had appeared on his show that morning.
“I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned,” he wrote in a statement posted shortly after 12 p.m. Eastern. “After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have the decency to tell me 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.”
Around 45 minutes later, CNN issued a rebuttal on its PR account: “Don Lemon’s statement about this morning’s events is inaccurate. He was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.”
Lemon's ouster came the same day that Fox News announced it was abruptly parting ways with its most popular host, conservative personality Tucker Carlson.
In mid-February, Lemon caused an uproar when, during a discussion on “CNN This Morning” with co-hosts Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins about the ages of politicians, he said that the 51-year-old Haley was not “in her prime.” A woman, he said, was considered in her prime “in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s.”
Harlow challenged Lemon, trying to clarify what he was referencing: “I think we need to qualify. Are you talking about prime for childbearing or are you talking about prime for being president?”
“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.
Lemon issued a statement the same day saying he regretted his “inartful and irrelevant” comments. He was subsequently absent from the show for three days, returning the following week with a tweeted apology but no mention of the episode on air.
Licht told staffers in a memo at the time that Lemon would undergo “formal training,” but did not specify what that would entail. Licht added that it was important to him that the network “balances accountability with … fostering a culture in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes.”
Lemon used to host the prime-time “Don Lemon Tonight” but moved to the mornings when the network launched “CNN This Morning” last November, just before the U.S. midterm elections, as one of the first major programming moves under Licht. But the show hasn't had the intended ratings effect, and CNN leadership urged patience last month amid downturn in viewership across the board.
Haley, who had criticized Lemon's statements as sexist and used the incident to fundraise in February, took to Twitter on Monday to call Lemon’s ouster “a great day for women everywhere,” linking to the beverage sleeves emblazoned with “Past my prime? Hold my beer.”
Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard contributed reporting from Columbia, South Carolina.
UPDATES: Recasts hed, adds context and details.