Drama swirls as Don Lemon ‘terminated by CNN’ after 17 years

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CNN announced the exit Monday of longtime anchor Don Lemon, and not surprisingly, there was drama.

The cable network said in a statement that the two had “parted ways,” but Mr. Lemon had a different take, saying he was “stunned” after being told by his agent that he was “terminated by CNN” after wrapping up the latest episode of the morning show he co-hosts.

“After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly,” he tweeted. “It is clear that there are some larger issues at play.”

Mr. Lemon then thanked his colleagues for “an incredible run” at the network, calling them “the most talented journalists in the business.”

The move was largely overshadowed by Monday’s announcement that top-rated host Tucker Carlson has left Fox News Channel, which shocked the media and political worlds. By contrast, Mr. Lemon’s exit was not unexpected.

CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht said in a statement that “CNN and Don have parted ways.”

“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,” Mr. Licht said.

Mr. Lemon was demoted from his primetime slot last year and moved to the revamped morning show in what was seen as an effort to dial back the network’s left-wing bias. Moving the network back toward the political center has been a goal of new management since the merger that created Warner Bros. Discovery.

Mr. Lemon may have sealed his fate two months ago when he said on the air that Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley “is not in her prime,” explaining that a woman is considered in her prime “in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s.”

The former South Carolina governor is 51. CNN co-host Poppy Harlow challenged Mr. Lemon, asking if he was “talking about prime for childbearing or are you talking about prime for being president?”

Retorted Mr. Lemon: “Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what the facts are.”

He tweeted later that day that he regretted his comments as “inartful and irrelevant, as colleagues and loved ones have pointed out,” then disappeared from the show for several days. Mr. Licht told employees in an email that the host had agreed to “participate in formal training” on the matter.

The conservative satirical site the Babylon Bee commented: “Sad: CNN Fires Don Lemon After Realizing He’s Past His Prime.”

Mr. Lemon’s departure follows an explosive April 5 report in Variety that details his “diva-like” behavior and disrespectful actions toward former CNN colleagues such as Soledad O’Brien and Kyra Phillips.

Mr. Lemon was accused of sending a threatening text to Ms. Phillips when she was picked to cover the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq instead of him. He was also accused of saying on a call that Ms. O’Brien was not actually Black when she was tapped to co-host a docuseries on Black people.

Ms. O’Brien, who is part White and part Afro-Cuban, said afterward she wasn’t surprised.

“Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things, so it sounds pretty on brand for him,” said Ms. O’Brien, who wasn’t on the call.

A spokesperson for Mr. Lemon denied both of the allegations to Variety.

Certainly the last two days have been eventful ones for the cable-news industry. The Lemon and Carlson departures come a day after NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell stepped down over what he called an “inappropriate relationship with a woman at the company.”

NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast, is the parent company of cable-news channels CNBC and MSNBC.

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