CNN typically devotes its daily morning editorial call to hashing out the news cycle, lining up “rundowns” for its various programs; and internal housekeeping. On Friday’s call, according to three people familiar with the matter, anchor Don Lemon took time out for something different — an apology.
Lemon sought to tamp down internal and external backlash to polarizing comments he made on Thursday’s “CNN This Morning” about when women are in their prime, although it remains unclear whether all staffers will let the matter drop.
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Speaking for a few minutes, one of these people said, Lemon said he regretted saying that women who are past their 40s are no longer in their prime, a comment that appeared to be off the cuff and inspired by coverage of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who recently declared her candidacy for the 2024 US presidential race. “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in their prime in 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.” Lemon said on Thursday’s broadcast, later adding: “If you Google ‘when is a woman in her prime,’ it’ll say 20s, 30s and 40s.” The comments appeared to rankle co-anchor Poppy Harlow, who tried to get Lemon to walk them back.
Lemon made his apology to staff Friday at the behest of CNN CEO Chris Licht, according to two people familiar with the matter. Executives at CNN are said to be concerned about the situation, and one of these people may warrant further action if the story continues to generate outrage or keeps hovering in the news cycle.
Spokespersons for CNN could not be reached for immediate comment. Lemon’s apology on the Friday morning call was previously reported by TMZ.
During his remarks, Lemon tried to indicate that he owned the mistake, and that he had long stood against racism and sexism, according to one of the people familiar with the incident. He thanked many women who have been and are involved in his work. He also mentioned that he had been contacted by Nia-Malika Henderson, the CNN political correspondent, who urged him to “fix” the situation, telling Lemon that “this is not the person you are.” One of the people familiar with the event said it wasn’t clear whether Lemon assuaged the concerns of all employees.
Lemon had previously expressed regret via social media on Thursday, noting 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,” he said. “A woman’s age does not define her either personally or professionally. I have countless women in my life who prove that every day.”
“CNN This Morning” was supposed to mark a new start for CNN under the aegis of its new owner, Warner Bros. Discovery. The program hews close to a formula that has proven to be a winning one in the past for Licht, who is known in the business for his work launching MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and giving a boost to “CBS This Morning.” But the show has had a rocky launch, with Lemon appearing in some instances to break out of the usual AM routine and offer commentary that doesn’t always hit the mark. In one moment, he appeared to be criticizing Kaitlan Collins, the third co-anchor of the program, right after she had interviewed James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee, about upcoming hearings on the topic of Hunter Biden’s laptop. The trio has developed an unsteady chemistry, with Collins appearing circumspect and Harlow sometimes playing the role of referee when Lemon wanders away from the expected interaction.
Morning-TV observers believe Lemon’s comments Thursday were particularly detrimental because they took aim at an important part of the AM audience: women over 40. Advertisers pay the most for news programs that attract the most people between 25 and 54, and with his remarks on Thursday, Lemon may have alienated some of them. There is also concern within CNN that his line of reasoning may have offended female newsmakers whom CNN would hope to book on its programs.
Viewership for “CNN This Morning” has fallen off since its launch in November, according to data from Nielsen. In its first month on the air, the show won an average of 99,000 viewers between 25 and 54. In January, that crowd had fallen to an average of 74,000, a decline of approximately 25%.
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