NEW YORK (AP) — CNN fired longtime host Don Lemon on Monday following his short and disastrous run as a morning show host, a little over two months after he apologized for on-air comments about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley being past her prime.
The move quickly turned nasty. While CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht announced, after Lemon had co-hosted the show Monday, that they had “parted ways,” Lemon characterized it as a firing and said it was surprise to him.
“After 17 years at CNN I would have thought someone in management would have the decency to tell me directly,” Lemon said. CNN said that Lemon was given the opportunity to meet with management but released a statement on Twitter instead.
CNN offered no public explanation for Lemon’s dismissal. During a February 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.
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.
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.”
Lemon used to host the prime-time “Don Lemon Tonight” but moved 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.
He attracted negative attention last fall by saying that the U.S. men’s soccer team should be paid more than the women’s team, saying that the men were “more interesting to watch.”
Lemon had a well-publicized on-air tiff with Collins last December, when he accused her of trying to interrupt him.
Lemon also had a tense on-air interview last week with Republican presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy where Lemon, who is Black, disputed Ramaswamy’s interpretation of racial history.
It’s all a bad look for a morning news show, where the audience is primarily women and casts try to depict themselves as a big happy family. The show has made little headway in the ratings against the more popular “Fox & Friends” and “Morning Joe” on cable news competitors.
The lousy vibes were beginning to cost CNN advertising sales and some potential guests were becoming reluctant to appear on “CNN This Morning,” said a CNN staff member familiar with the decision to oust Lemon but not authorized to speak publicly.
Some people close to Lemon have suggested that the morning job was essentially a demotion for him, and he was given little support to succeed.
Lemon said he learned of his firing from his agent.
“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,” he said.
Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard contributed reporting from Columbia, South Carolina.