Don Lemon says he's been fired by CNN: 'I am stunned'

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: Don Lemon attends The 15th Annual CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on December 12, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images)
Don Lemon is out at CNN after 17 years. (Photo: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images)

Don Lemon announced Monday that he's been "terminated" by CNN. The embattled anchor, who joined the network in 2006, faced scrutiny over his alleged sexist behavior, surviving numerous on-air blunders during his tenure, like in February when he declared Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley "isn't in her prime" at age 51.

"I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN," he shared on social media just hours after appearing on-air Monday morning as usual. "I am stunned."

Lemon added, "After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly. 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. 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."

CNN confirmed his departure with CNN CEO Chris Licht saying 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. We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors." Licht added that, despite Lemon's departure, the network remains "committed" to the success of CNN This Morning.

The split turned messy immediately, however, with CNN Communications tweeting soon after that Lemon's statement is "inaccurate." The network claimed Lemon was "offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter."

Lemon's exit comes on the heels of Variety's April 5 exposé detailing multiple supposed misogynistic incidents over the past 15 years at CNN. In 2008, the anchor allegedly threatened his Live From co-host Kyra Phillips when she got an assignment he coveted. Lemon supposedly made a derogatory comment about former colleague Soledad O'Brien and disrespected Nancy Grace on the air. Unnamed sources questioned his journalistic integrity and behind-the-scenes behavior.

After the report dropped, a spokesperson for Lemon fired off the following statement: "The story, which is riddled with patently false anecdotes and no concrete evidence, is entirely based on unsourced, unsubstantiated, 15-year-old anonymous gossip. It's amazing and disappointing that Variety would be so reckless."

In October, Lemon said goodbye to his show Don Lemon Tonight after eight years. The following month, he launched CNN This Morning alongside Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins in one of CEO Chris Licht's big programming shake-ups. Lemon was sidelined earlier this year after his comments about Haley sparked widespread backlash. Months prior, he was called out after making "sexist" remarks about the U.S. women's soccer team. It was speculated there was tension off-air with Harlow and Collins.

Lemon's firing comes as CNN faces the steepest year-over-year decline among the three major news networks. In February, The Wrap reported CNN This Morning was the network's lowest-rated morning show in a decade. (Those numbers briefly increased when Lemon returned to the air after the Haley fiasco.)

After co-anchoring the 5 p.m. newscast for NBC5 News in Chicago, Lemon joined CNN where he quickly rose the ranks. Don Lemon Tonight launched in 2014 in a primetime slot. He co-moderated a 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate and covered breaking news stories for CNN including the death of Queen Elizabeth II, last year's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the crisis in Ukraine. He served as a correspondent across CNN/U.S. programming prior to his departure.

Suzy Byrne contributed to this report.