CNN's Don Lemon still gets it wrong. His non-apology for sexist comments is what not to do.

After the uproar over his declaration that women in general, and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and 2024 Republican Party Presidential candidate Nikki Haley in particular, are past their prime after their “20s and 30s and maybe 40s,” CNN co-host Don Lemon offered an apology-lite.

Speaking to the CNN newsroom, Lemon said, “I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt anyone. I did not mean to offend anyone. … The people I’m closest to in this organization are women,” then proceeded to name some of his female colleagues.

Lemon's comments show us how not to apologize

Don, buddy, let me womansplain something to you: Apologies are not about intention. Apologies are not about what you did or did not mean to do. Apologies are about acknowledging and owning an action that was wrong, and, ideally, taking steps to not repeat said action. No one who actually wants to hurt or offend feels the need to apologize.

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Furthermore, listing off the women with whom you are closest to avoid scrutiny is immaterial for at least two reasons: First, the determination of "closest" is your estimation alone; closest does not actually mean "close." Closest can be pretty far away – but if there is nothing or no one in between, and you have not moved further apart, then yes, I suppose you are closest (based on your co-hosts’ visceral responses to your statement, I’m guessing that you have, in fact, moved further apart).

Don Lemon is apologizing after saying Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is not "in her prime."
Don Lemon is apologizing after saying Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is not "in her prime."

Second, claiming that you are close to women – and therefore, are not sexist – borrows from the same tropes as white people claiming they are not racist because they have Black friends.

As a queer man of color, I presume you’ve been on the receiving end of both that cloudy racist statement as well as a volatile mixture of anti-Black homophobia. As a heterosexual white person, I do not know what those specific microaggressions feel like, but as a woman – a woman who is this close to being past her prime – I am all too familiar with how it feels to be trotted out as an example of anti-sexism. I’m here to tell you: It’s still sexist. It’s still a form of censorship. It’s definitely not an apology.

The bottom line is: You did hurt and you did offend. It was clear from your co-hosts’ immediate reaction, to which you responded as only a misogynist would, by talking over them, and decrying, “Don’t shoot the messenger! I’m just saying what the facts are! Google it!”

As a reminder, the cliché "don’t shoot the messenger" applies when the messenger has the least power – but takes the fall as a form of protection for those in power. For example, the messenger is the customer service agent who gives us the bad news about our lost luggage; it is not the airline executive who oversees shoddy labor practices that allow our luggage to be lost in the first place.

You, sir, are a public figure on a national news channel with a great deal of power and a great deal of responsibility to wield that power respectfully. Acting as if you take your marching orders from Google searches does not absolve you of blame for your sexism.

Another view: Fox News' election lies vs. sexism from CNN's Don Lemon. The difference? Accountability.

Not only sexist, but inaccurate

A more accurate and respectful apology could have been: I’m sorry. With my statement, and with my actions, where I communicated a sexist trope and engaged in the misogynist behavior of talking over my female co-hosts, and abdicated responsibility, I hurt and I offended people. As a bonus, if you do intend to make change, I want to, and need to, learn how to do better.

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By the way, after your comments, I took your advice. I Googled, as per your directive, "When is a woman in her prime?" The first two pages of results were responses to and comments on your statement. It took three pages of Google results before I got to any pages with data that defined a woman’s worth by her age (you were clearly a trending topic for a hot minute).

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I did not find any factual evidence causally connecting a woman’s age with her success at work in the arts, education, politics, science, medicine, space exploration, mountain climbing, child rearing, friendship fostering, philanthropy, charity, meal planning, laundry doing, star gazing, dog walking, vegetable gardening, beach-going, TV watching or any of the other myriad things that women do all the time.

Allison Butler is director of the Media Literacy Certificate Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Allison Butler is director of the Media Literacy Certificate Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

As my Google search indicates (I prefer DuckDuckGo, for the record), it is not just that your comments were inaccurate or hateful in nature, or that your apology was, frankly, a non-apology. It is that your gaffes and your apology were unoriginal and lazy. If you want to insult 50% of the population, at least put a little spine into it.

Allison Butler is a senior lecturer, director of undergraduate advising, and director of the Media Literacy Certificate Program in the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her new book is entitled "The Media and Me: A Guide to Critical Media Literacy for Young People."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Don Lemon's comment about Nikki Haley was sexist. His apology was, too