Don Lemon says he was fired by CNN without warning. Network blasts ‘inaccurate’ statement

Don Lemon, in a blue collared shirt, is framed in a head-and-shoulders portrait, looking at camera.
CNN anchor Don Lemon says he was fired from the network.
(Kirk McKoy /Los Angeles Times)

Prominent CNN host Don Lemon on Monday announced that he has been fired after 17 years at the cable news network.

“I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN,” Lemon wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly.”

His departure was swift. Lemon had appeared on “CNN This Morning” earlier in the day.

The network confirmed the news in a statement.

The CNN anchor, who will return to the air Wednesday after making offensive comments about women, will enter a sensitivity training program.

Feb. 21, 2023

“CNN and Don have parted ways,” CNN Chief Executive Chris Licht said in the statement. “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.”


But CNN also challenged Lemon’s account of how he was fired.

“Don Lemon’s statement about this morning’s events is inaccurate,” the network said in a statement posted online. “He was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.”

The move came as CNN began facing resistance from advertisers and potential guests for the morning news program “CNN This Morning,” which Lemon co-anchored, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.

Lemon was briefly suspended in February after he made offensive comments about when a woman is past her “prime” while speaking about 51-year-old Republican former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is running for the party’s presidential nomination for the 2024 election.

In an unusual move, Licht told the staff in a memo announcing Lemon’s return from suspension that the anchor would undergo “formal training” — most likely diversity, equity and inclusion instruction from parent company Warner Bros. Discovery’s human resources department.

In his Twitter statement on Monday, Lemon indicated that he had been blindsided by the news.

“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,” Lemon wrote.


“It is clear that there are some larger issues at play,” Lemon said. “With that said, I want to thank my colleagues and the many teams I have worked with for an incredible run. They are the most talented journalists in the business, and I wish them all the best.”

The Louisiana native, who joined CNN in 2006, became a popular figure during his eight years in the network’s prime-time lineup.

He generated fans for being outspoken about often-culturally taboo topics. In his 2011 book, “Transparent,” Lemon came out as gay and discussed the stigmas of being a gay Black man.

He encouraged others to speak candidly about their sexual orientation, saying “there’s a degree of deception in silence.

He moved into CNN’s prime-time lineup in 2014 and was key in the network’s coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Mo., after a police officer was not indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.

As the only African American cable news anchor in prime-time, Lemon’s profile grew even larger in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officers.


As protesters spilled into the streets, Lemon called on Hollywood celebrities to publicly voice their support. “Where are you? Why aren’t you fighting for these young people? If you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?” Lemon demanded.

He used his platform to help shape the national discourse on race relations. Viewers responded positively; his prime-time show drew nearly 2.5 million people.

“I feel like I found my voice and found my groove,” Lemon told The Times in June 2020. “This is my time to be me on TV.”

The Louisiana native, who joined CNN in 2006 and is the only Black cable news anchor in prime time, is clearly energized by having a role in shaping the current national discourse on race relations.

June 10, 2020

Lemon also helped CNN provide breaking news coverage throughout the day, including Floyd’s first memorial service.

He was called on to provide signature coverage of CNN’s New Years celebrations and other high-profile events. Last September, Licht dispatched Lemon to Britain after Queen Elizabeth II died and he anchored broadcasts from Scotland.

But earlier this year, Licht moved Lemon to the mornings as part of a high-stakes makeover of the early morning show. There, Lemon was paired with fellow personalities Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.


The move proved to be an awkward fit for Lemon.

The uproar over his remarks about Haley prompted conservatives to pile on the network, which has been attempting to move to the political center after enduring much criticism from former President Trump and his allies.

Lemon’s sexist remarks also fomented anger among CNN’s female employees. Lemon was trying to critique Haley’s statements that political leaders over 75 should undergo competency testing. But Lemon’s attempt to attack one type of ageism went awry.

“All the talk about age makes me uncomfortable — I think it’s a wrong road to go down,” Lemon began. “She says politicians, or something, are not in their prime. Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime — sorry — when a woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s, maybe 40s.”

Co-anchor Harlow interjected, telling Lemon to “wait,” and asked a couple of times, “Prime for what?”

The distraction added to the network’s woes, which had been roiled for months by layoffs, cost-cutting and the 2022 ouster of the network’s longtime leader Jeff Zucker, who had long been one of Lemon’s biggest champions at the network.

CNN’s owners Warner Bros. Discovery brought Licht in from CBS last year and tasked him with tempering CNN’s most outspoken anchors. The goal was to attract more conservatives to the network.


“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” said cable TV pioneer and major Discovery shareholder John Malone on CNBC in 2021, before the merger of Discovery and WarnerMedia.

Staff writer Stephen Battaglio contributed to this report.