Co-anchor had been absent for several days after making disparaging comments about presidential candidate Nikki Haley
CNN said Don Lemon would return to “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday, ending a multiday absence following his disparaging comments last week that Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley wasn’t in her “prime” as a 51-year-old woman.
In a memo to staff on Monday night viewed by The Wall Street Journal, CNN Chairman and Chief Executive Chris Licht said he had a “frank and meaningful conversation” with Mr. Lemon, who will “participate in formal training.”
InIn his memo, Mr. Licht said it is important that CNN balance accountability with a fostering culture “in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes.”
During Thursday’s program, Mr. Lemon was discussing Ms. Haley’s call for mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75 with his co-anchors Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.
“I think it is the wrong road to go down. She says people, you know, 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 and maybe 40s,” Mr. Lemon said on “CNN This Morning” Thursday.
His on-air colleague Ms. Harlow pushed back on Mr. Lemon for suggesting that a 51-year-old woman wasn’t in her prime.
Mr. Lemon, 56, responded: “I’m just saying what the facts are. Google it. Everybody at home, when is a woman in her prime, it says 20s, 30s and 40s. And I’m just saying Nikki Haley should be careful about saying that politicians are not in their prime, and they need to be in their prime when they serve. Because she wouldn’t be in her prime according to Google or whatever it is.“
The remarks quickly led to a backlash both inside CNN and in the general public. Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, tweeted, “To be clear, I am NOT calling for competency tests for Sexist middle-aged CNN anchors; only for people who make our laws and are 75+.”
To be clear, I am NOT calling for competency tests for Sexist middle-aged CNN anchors; only for people who make our laws and are 75+. https://t.co/wvUNCcNdVt— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 16, 2023
“CNN This Morning,” which started airing last November, has been one of the priorities of Mr. Licht, who was tapped early last year by CNN’s new owner Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. to re-energize the network. Mr. Licht, who previously produced the CBS morning show and was an architect of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has made a series of major programming moves since he took over, including canceling the Sunday morning show “Reliable Sources” and moving Mr. Lemon from prime time to the morning slot.
“CNN This Morning” has struggled in the ratings, typically averaging less than 400,000 viewers since its debut, and is far behind Fox News and MSNBC.
Mr. Licht reprimanded Mr. Lemon on an editorial call Friday morning. Mr. Licht said Mr. Lemon’s comments were “unacceptable” and “a huge distraction to the great work of this organization,” people familiar with the call said. Mr. Lemon apologized for his comments on the same call, the people said.
Mr. Lemon also tweeted Thursday after the show that “the reference I made to a woman’s ‘prime’ this morning was inartful and irrelevant, as colleagues and loved ones have pointed out, and I regret it. A woman’s age doesn’t define her either personally or professionally. I have countless women in my life who prove that every day.”
Mr. Lemon hadn’t appeared on “CNN This Morning” since Thursday’s show. On Friday, he was scheduled for a day off, the network said. He was scheduled to return to the show on Monday but didn’t appear.
A CNN veteran of nearly 17 years, Mr. Lemon joined the cable news channel in the fall of 2006 after stints in local TV, NBC News and MSNBC. He was given a prime-time show in 2014 and moved to “CNN This Morning” last fall.
Mornings are only one of several holes Mr. Licht is trying to fix. CNN is still in search of a host for its 9 p.m. hour, a slot that has been vacant since Chris Cuomo was pushed out of the network in 2021.
Mr. Licht is also developing a new lineup of afternoon shows, the network said.
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