Don Lemon's On-Set Behavior Has Caused Trouble More Than Once In His Career

Don Lemon has been in some serious hot water, and it hasn't been the soothing kind (hot water with lemon, get it?). If you don't follow the CNN anchor or 24-hour news channels in general, then you may not be aware — though you might have heard Michelle Yeoh's Oscar acceptance speech in March. She apparently referenced the anchor without mentioning him when she said, "Ladies, don't let anybody tell you [that] you are ever past your prime."

That's right. Lemon said Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley "isn't in her prime" on his new show "CNN This Morning." After eight-plus years of his own primetime solo show, Lemon joined the series in November 2022 alongside cohosts Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. He made this comment in February 2023 in response to Haley's claim that older political candidates should take mental competency tests before running for office. Lemon's comments were apparently so upsetting to Harlow that she walked off the set.

Though Lemon took a short leave and gave a generic apology before returning to the show, this kind of scandal is not new to him. It's only the latest controversy for the beloved newsman, especially after a bombshell report from Variety detailed a long history of temperamental, even childish behavior, going as far back as 2008 — only two years into his long tenure at CNN. As former CNN consultant Goldie Taylor said, "I'm never surprised when Don gets in trouble."

Don Lemon behaved appallingly to his cohost Kyra Phillips in 2008

According to Variety's report, Don Lemon's cruel and unprofessional behavior in 2008 made life tense for many on the Atlanta-based CNN crew, and things got worse with the treatment of his fellow "Live From" host, Kyra Phillips. When Phillips was given an assignment in Iraq that Lemon wanted, Lemon reportedly showed his frustration by destroying some of the notes and photos on Phillip's desk in their shared cubicle. After she returned home, she started receiving anonymous threatening texts with warnings like "Now you've crossed the line, and you're going to pay for it." When CNN's people investigated, the texts were traced back to Lemon.

Though the results of the HR investigation were not disclosed, Lemon was taken off the show and given a different assignment as a disciplinary action. That was Lemon's last time with a female co-anchor until his current show with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. Phillips has been with ABC News since 2018, and Lemon denies the incident took place.

As history has shown, Lemon often faces little repercussions for his controversies. Furthermore, it's certainly easier to get away with things if the ratings are good. Because ratings have dropped significantly since the Warner Bros-Discovery merger put Chris Licht in place of former CNN President Jeff Zucker — who resigned suddenly due to an undisclosed romantic relationship — execs are starting to pay more attention to Lemon's questionable behavior, especially with his current female cohosts.

The incident with Kyra Phillips wasn't Don Lemon's first scandal

But the incident with Kyra Phillips wasn't the start of Don Lemon's shady behavior. Apparently, the newsman has a history of questionable conduct, including insulting his coworkers, having an affair with a junior staffer (in both age and rank), and even dubious journalism ethics. According to Variety's report, he reportedly ignored rules, missed meetings, showed up late, and often seemed threatened by others' success, especially if they were women. 

One of his first shocking incidents, according to a witness, might have been when Lemon mimicked anchor Nancy Grace — CNN's biggest star at the time — on air, upsetting their colleagues in the room. "That was the beginning of when you knew that Don was kind of volatile and didn't say good things about women," the witness told Variety. Grace didn't respond for comment, but a source close to her said, "She thinks he's an a**" who was always "rude, dismissive, and really unfamiliar with the [news] content being discussed."

He also reportedly suggested to a conference call of approximately 30 staffers that the Afro-Cuban anchor Soledad O'Brien wasn't black after she got a job he wanted as host of CNN's new series "Black in America." Though O'Brien wasn't in the room when it happened, she told Variety, "Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things, so it sounds pretty on brand for him." Lemon is now considering legal action against Variety — with a source calling him "apoplectic" at the story.

Don Lemon's tenure with CNN is at an end

It seems Don Lemon's history of problematic behavior at CNN has caught up with him. Though Lemon reportedly had the support of CNN chief Chris Licht, that has clearly changed. Insiders told The New York Times that it was increasingly difficult to keep Lemon on since some guests didn't want to appear with him. His popularity among viewers had also decreased. "CNN and Don have parted ways," Licht said in a statement. "Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years."

However, Lemon's reading of the event was somewhat more contentious. "I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned," Lemon tweeted. "After 17 years at CNN, I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly." But CNN's Communications team responded that Lemon's statement was "inaccurate," because "he was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter." Lemon hiring Hollywood lawyer Bryan Freedman indicates he won't go quietly.

Lemon's firing happened to occur on the same day as another major cable news shakeup: Tucker Carlson being ousted from Fox News. "To be clear: Fox News did not know that CNN was terminating Don Lemon today and CNN did not know that Fox was ousting Tucker Carlson," former CNN host Brian Stelter tweeted. "This was a complete and crazy coincidence."