Last Thursday, during an otherwise milquetoast political segment on the inertly-rated CNN This Morning, Don Lemon spontaneously self-immolated, and then some. After airing campaign footage in which Nikki Haley called for competency tests for people aged 75 and above—a thinly-veiled dig at her former boss and now 2024 rival, Donald Trump—Lemon mused that Haley was being hypocritical. After all, Lemon argued, women were considered to be in their “prime” in their 20s, 30s, and maybe 40s. Haley, a former governor and U.N. ambassador, is 51. When co-host Poppy Harlow pushed back, appearing genuinely shocked, Lemon obnoxiously countered that she “Google it,” as if the accelerated decrepitude of the gender was a scientific fact.
The Internet went aflame, of course, gathering heat from the interlocking factions of Fox News lovers, CNN haters, and media snafu drive-by spectators. In his all-hands meeting the day after the on-air debacle, CNN C.E.O. Chris Licht was still coming to terms with the severity of the crisis. Lemon, for his part, didn’t seem to grasp the consequences. He called into the A.M. meeting from a previously scheduled vacation in Miami and offered an apology that seemed, at times, sincere, scripted, and choreographed. Earlier this week, the network announced that Lemon would undergo unspecified “formal training” for, I’m told, diversity and inclusion sensitivity.
Lemon, a naturally gifted and credentialled broadcaster, is hardly a stranger to moments of eyebrow-raising journalist-becomes-the-story misadventures. A decade ago, in response to a charged Bill O’Reilly critique of the Black community following the George Zimmerman trial, Lemon, then a weekend host, made a passionate and controversial rant that called upon “Black people” to, among other things, “pull up your pants,” stop littering, and reduce use of the N-word. In 2014, after he was promoted to prime time during the network’s wall-to-wall coverage of the missing Malaysian Airlines jet, Lemon drew mocking headlines for briefly entertaining the idea that the vessel had disappeared into a black hole. The same year, he asked an Islamic scholar if he supported ISIS and queried a Bill Cosby accuser about why she didn’t bite the comedian’s penis in self-defense. In 2015, he held up a sign with the N-word on air and asked: “Does this offend you?”