Don Lemon Says He Doesn’t Believe in ‘Platforming Liars and Bigots’

Don Lemon Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Images

Two months after his ouster from CNN, ex-anchor Don Lemon has given his first on-the-record interview about his firing. Speaking to an ABC affiliate in Memphis, Lemon blamed the decision not on rumored tensions with his co-hosts, nor on his occasionally explosive interview style, nor on the backlash to the weird, sexist comments he made about a presidential candidate. Instead, he seemed to blame the rupture on conflicting principles.

“I don’t believe in platforming liars and bigots, insurrectionists and election deniers, and putting them on the same footing as people who are telling the truth, people who are fighting for what’s right, people who are abiding by the Constitution,” he said. He went on: “I have a responsibility not only as a journalist but as an American to tell the truth and to abide by the promises of the Constitution. Because the Constitution says a more perfect union, not a perfect union. I’m not a perfect person. No one is.”

Lemon’s comments appeared to allude to the heated exchange he had on-air with Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy on April 19. During the interview, Ramaswamy, who is Indian American, said that the NRA helped African Americans gain equal rights after the Civil War. Lemon countered that it was “insulting” that Ramaswamy was “sitting here — whatever ethnicity you are — explaining to me what it’s like to be Black in America.” That interview, according to the New York Times, left CNN management “exasperated.” Lemon was fired days later.

But the Ramaswamy interview was just the latest in a string of controversies: In February, Lemon took it upon himself to critique Nikki Haley’s age after she announced her bid for the presidency. “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry!” he said on-air. “When a woman is considered to be in her prime is her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.” After Lemon’s co-anchor, Poppy Harlow, pressed him to explain himself, Lemon continued to spin his wheels. “If you Google ‘When is a woman in her prime?’ it’ll say 20s, 30s, and 40s,” he said. “I’m not saying I agree with that, but I think she has to be careful.” As his colleagues pushed back, Lemon threw up his hands. “Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what the facts are. Google it!”

To some, the detour sounded like yet another example of Lemon talking out of his ass. (Remember when he suggested to one of Bill Cosby’s victims that she maybe could’ve avoided being raped if she’d fought back a little harder? Just one example.) But according to the Daily Beast, certain CNN staffers internally pushed for consequences: “There were grumbles of mansplaining,” one source said. “And how much longer the women should have to be talked down to before there’s a change.” For reference, Lemon is rumored to have screamed at his co-anchor Kaitlan Collins in December after making belittling on-air observations about how men’s sports teams are “more interesting to watch” than women’s.

In any case, after a longer-than-expected absence from his hosting seat, Lemon returned with an apology to the “network,” his “colleagues, and our incredible audience” on February 22. Per an internal memo from then–network chairman Chris Licht, Lemon would have to undergo some sort of “formal training” in recompense for the remarks. (Licht was fired from CNN in June.)

But then, in early April, Variety published an investigation into Lemon’s conduct at CNN, essentially accusing him of being a misogynist both on-camera and off. According to the report, which catalogued allegedly hostile encounters with female colleagues going back to 2008, Lemon once threatened a co-worker who got an assignment in Iraq that he wanted. He reportedly called a producer fat and openly mocked a co-host — in both cases right to the woman’s face. He allegedly questioned Soledad O’Brien’s racial identity when he felt he had been passed over for another hosting gig, and while both Lemon and CNN denied the accuracy of Variety’s reporting, O’Brien told the outlet that “Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things.”

News of Lemon’s firing came from Lemon himself on April 24. In a statement posted to Twitter, Lemon said his agent, not anyone at CNN, delivered the news, leaving him “stunned.”

“After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would’ve had the decency to tell me directly,” he wrote. “At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I loved at the network. It is clear that there are some larger issues at play. 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.”

Asked for comment on Lemon’s claims, CNN directed the Cut to a tweet from its communications department, which read, “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.” According to the New York Times, “executives at CNN gradually concluded that his future at CNN had become untenable” and that “CNN’s bookers had discovered that some guests did not want to appear on-air with Mr. Lemon,” whose popularity apparently nose-dived in recent weeks.

“We thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years,” CNN’s official statement said of Lemon’s exit said. “We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors.”

In his interview this week, Lemon told ABC 24 that he is in no rush to make his next career move. “I’m not going to let other people’s timelines influence me,” he said. “I know people say, ‘I miss you on television. What is your next move?’ I’m figuring that out. I don’t have to be in a rush. I think sometimes people rush to make decisions and they end up making the wrong decisions.”

This article has been updated.

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