Earlier this year, longtime CNN anchor Don Lemon was let go in a shocking cable news shake-up. At the time, his departure after almost two decades was seen as being directly related to comments he made about Nikki Haley, as well as rumors that he couldn’t get along with some people behind the scenes. Four months later, however, the newsman is now convinced that’s not really what was going on.
In his first extended interview since his firing, Don Lemon sat down with Kara Swisher from Vox’s Pivot and talked candidly about where his head is at and what he’s been up to since he was let go. Apparently he’s traveled extensively and spent a lot of time with family. He’s also, with time, apparently realized that his Nikki Haley comments were just a convenient excuse for letting him go. The real issue wasn’t the comments themselves, it was the fact that CNN and former CEO Chris Licht (who has since been let go) wanted to go in a different more “centrist” direction, and they didn’t see him as being part of that. You can read a portion of his quote below…
I’ll tell you what I’ve come to know now that I didn’t know at the time. More so than anything, CNN’s strategy and the content and direction they wanted to go in, I was not a part of that, they did not want me to be a part of that. And I think, from what has played out publicly as it relates to CNN as it relates to management and what they’re doing now, I think it’s obvious. They didn’t want me to be a part of it, and that’s the real issue that happened… They wanted to be centrist, and they wanted to move the network in a certain direction, which was kind of a bit surprising because I think the news is the news. You don’t choose a direction, it just is.
Over his extended career at CNN that included both stints in primetime and the morning, Lemon had his fair share of controversies. What’s clear to him now, however, is that he was given a chance to clear the air and apologize or clarify after those previous mistakes happened. To him, being on news for three or four hour stretches means you’re going to step in it now and again, but instead of letting him fix the problem, Licht and company saw it as an opportunity to bail on him since he didn’t fit into their long-term plans.
Here’s Lemon’s explanation in his own words…
I would sit there three hours, sometimes four hours or longer, either at night or (during) the day, and there are no words. You’re having conversations, and anchors say things all the time, people on television say things all the time, you’ve said things all the time that came out wrong, that you wish you would have said in a different way… I hadn’t gotten into trouble for making mistakes before because I would apologize for them or explain what I intended to say and it would be fine because I think people understood that’s the way things work in television.
The conversation in question came during a roundtable discussion on CNN This Morning. Nikki Haley (51) had said President Joe Biden (80) was past his prime, and Lemon said she needed to be careful because as a woman, she was past her prime. When his female co-anchors Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins pushed back, he told them to Google it and that a woman is said to be in her prime in her 20s, 30s and 40s. The comment didn’t sit well with many viewers, and Lemon was yanked off the air for a short period, amidst some rumors of behind the scenes problems with some women at the network. He released an apology/ clarification and was also told to attend “formal training.” He wasn’t gone long, however, and it seemed like everything was back to normal, until it suddenly wasn’t and he was let go in one of the most shocking TV shake-ups of the year.
It was widely reported that Licht, who was later fired and clearly had issues with many CNN employees, wanted to move the network in a more centrist direction. So, it’s a very reasonable conclusion that he may not have seen Lemon as the best anchor to cater to viewers looking for more middle of the road opinions. As conspiracy theories go, that one doesn’t exactly take mental gymnastics to get to. That being said, it also doesn’t take mental gymnastics to think Licht and the other CNN bosses didn’t love seeing one of their most prominent anchors trending on Twitter because of comments many considered sexist. So, maybe the truth is somewhere in between?
Regardless, Lemon’s biggest fans are waiting to see where he might land next. Recently, there have been rumors about a possible hosting position on The View. That might sound like an odd fit, given the comments that got him in hot water, but in some ways, the opinionated and stylish anchor would actually be a terrific fit for the daytime staple. Fingers crossed he lands something sooner rather than later, as TV news isn’t the same without his unique vibe and unapologetic opinions.