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Maybe Don Lemon Shouldn’t Have Been SO Surprised by His CNN Firing

Don Lemon smiles at the camera at an event red carpet, the backdrop behind him reading "CNN Heroes"

Monday’s news cycle was dominated by Tucker Carlson’s abrupt and welcome firing from Fox News, but Tuck wasn’t the only prominent media man to get the axe that day. Don Lemon also got a surprise firing from his anchor role at CNN. (Oh, and because these things really do come in threes, NBCUniversal also fired its former CEO Jeff Shell over allegations of sexual harassment.)

In a Notes app-style statement posted to Twitter Monday, Lemon said he was “stunned” at the news, which he says he received via his agent. “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,” he wrote.

The network denied Lemon’s description of events, writing in its own Twitter statement: “Don Lemon’s statement about this morning’s events is inaccurate. He was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.”

But even if Lemon’s version is accurate and he was not told by his employer that this was coming, was he really that surprised? If so, then he clearly hadn’t been paying attention to his own life and career.

Frankly, the only surprising part of Lemon’s firing is that it didn’t come sooner. The former anchor drew public ire a few weeks ago when he made a grossly misogynistic comment about Nikki Haley, claiming the 51-year-old 2024 Republican presidential candidate “isn’t in her prime,” as if there aren’t a few hundred less sexist and more substantive ways to criticize her political acuity.

Lemon was temporarily removed from his post and issued an apology for being such a weird creep (“inartful” was his exact wording) but that was far from the first or only instance of Lemon’s misogyny, either on or, reportedly, off-air.

Earlier this month, Variety released an exposé alleging two decades of “troubling treatment of women and unprofessional antics.” The outlet spoke with a dozen of Lemon’s former colleagues from over the years, who “painted a picture of a journalist who flouted rules and cozied up to power all while displaying open hostility to many female co-workers.” They describe him sending disturbing, threatening texts to his former co-anchor (anonymously, only to have them traced back to him), as well as insulting a female producer’s appearance to her face and apparently being known for mocking and mimicking other women on-air.

“Each and every time, he appeared to charm his way out of facing any meaningful consequences,” Variety wrote. So maybe he genuinely was surprised he couldn’t get out of whatever this final straw was.

Actually, according to the New York Times, that straw might not have had anything to do with Lemon’s long history of reported and public misogyny. The outlet says that a recent interview with another 2024 Republican hopeful, Vivek Ramaswamy, “left several CNN leaders exasperated,” according to their sources.

During the interview, Lemon (rightfully!) went after Ramaswamy for making the absurd claim that, among other things, the NRA played a large role in aiding Black Americans gain freedoms following the Civil War. During the argument, Lemon frustratedly pulled out his earpiece to silence the producers he said were talking at him—presumably trying to get him to back off.

If this interview was the reason why Lemon was fired—or even just the main or latest reason—that’s incredibly disappointing. To let him go not for decades of insulting women and reportedly making them feel uncomfortable and unsafe (or for allegedly exploiting massive power imbalances in his romantic and sexual relationships with extremely young male staffers, as Variety writes), but for calling out racist Republican nonsense is as infuriating as it is totally unsurprising.

(featured image: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.