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Don Lemon Has Long History of Misogynistic Behavior at CNN, New Report Details

A Variety exposé details the anchor’s bad behavior dating back to 2008.
  • Don Lemon (Photo: Jason Smith/Everett Collection)
    Don Lemon (Photo: Jason Smith/Everett Collection)

    Don Lemon returned to CNN in February after making sexist remarks about presidential candidate Nikki Haley, and according to CNN, that was under the condition that he would participate in “formal training.” At the time Lemon said, “When I make a mistake I own it, and I own this one as well.” But a new exposé from Variety reports that he’s made far more than just one mistake — accusations of Lemon’s sexist and inappropriate behavior date back to 2008, two years after he started at the network, while working on Live From with Kyra Phillips.

    Sources tell Variety that Lemon took issue with Phillips being sent on assignment in Iraq, and retaliated by tearing up pictures and notes on Phillips’ desk. Upon her return, she received threatening messages from an unknown number that were allegedly traced back to Lemon. While representatives from CNN and Lemon didn’t confirm that allegation, around that same time Lemon was pulled from Live From and moved to weekends at the network. He wasn’t paired with another female anchor until November 2022, when CNN This Morning With Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins debuted.

    Lemon had a history of misogynistic behavior at the network, openly showing hostility and making sexist comments to colleagues like Soledad O’Brien, S.E. Cupp, Nancy Grace, and Goldie Taylor both on and off the air. In one instance reported to Variety, he called a female producer fat to her face. He even turned that behavior onto sources. One of the most egregious moments took place in 2014 when he said to a Bill Cosby rape accuser: “There are ways to not perform oral sex if you didn’t want to … the using of the teeth, right? As a weapon.”

    Some sources note Jeff Zucker’s takeover of the network in 2013 as the moment Lemon leaned into being a “provocateur.” It’s around that time that he faced backlash for a segment in which he outlined five ways that Black community could fix its problems, doubling-down on harmful stereotypes. One colleague told Variety that Lemon’s shift in his journalistic choices led him to neglect actual important stories affecting that community.

    Lemon also showed poor ethical judgment. At the beginning of his time with CNN, he dated a 22-year-old junior staffer who was fresh out of college (Lemon was 41 at the time), a practice that while not prohibited, was greatly frowned upon. In 2021, Lemon texted Jussie Smollett to tell him that the Chicago Police Department doubted his story. Lemon later refused to hand over his phone records, but still reported on the case despite the conflict of interest. The breach of journalistic ethics caused many to call for his termination.

    Several of Lemon’s former colleagues were unafraid to speak out against him. When asked about the accuracy of some of Lemon’s reported comments, O’Brien said, “Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things, so it sounds pretty on brand for him.”

    Taylor, a former CNN consultant who regularly appeared on Lemon’s weekend show said, “I’m never surprised when Don gets in trouble,” she tells Variety. “It makes me neither happy nor sad to see him undermine his own success. There was a time when it appeared that Black people were most often the subject of his ire. Now, it seems to me that when he says something offensive, there’s almost always a woman on the other side.”

    As of press time, Lemon still hosts CNN This Morning weekdays on CNN.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Don Lemon, CNN, Nikki Haley, Soledad O'Brien, Variety