Don Lemon fires back on ’15-year-old gossip’ after report alleging misogyny, rule-flouting

Don Lemon’s team is firing back at a report alleging that the CNN anchor has a history of misogynistic actions, “diva-like behavior” and more on the job, labeling those claims as “patently false anecdotes.”

The veteran news anchor was the subject of a scathing Wednesday report by Variety, which said it had compiled accounts from more than a dozen of Lemon’s former and current colleagues 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.”

The report also alleged that the 57-year-old newsman, who has survived CNN’s regime changes, repeatedly charmed his way “out of facing any meaningful consequences.”

But a representative for Lemon objected to those “reckless” characterizations shortly after the report was published.

“The story, which is riddled with patently false anecdotes and no concrete evidence, is entirely based on unsourced, unsubstantiated, 15-year-old anonymous gossip,” the representative said Wednesday in a statement to The Times.

“It’s amazing and disappointing that Variety would be so reckless,” the rep added.

The statement comes on the heels of Lemon’s brief February hiatus following sexist remarks he made on air about former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a 51-year-old Republican presidential hopeful whom he said was past “her prime.” Lemon returned to “CNN This Morning” days later after the cable news network said he would undergo “formal training” from CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.

The former “Don Lemon Tonight” host was trying to critique ageism tied to Haley’s statements that political leaders older than 75 should be required to undergo competency testing, but his remarks — which conflated data about a woman’s supposed sexual prime — created an uproar among CNN’s female employees, including his co-anchors.

That led to a Twitter apology from the anchor but no on-air acknowledgment of his mistake. Many colleagues privately called for Lemon’s ouster, and there were questions about how Lemon survived the network’s major regime change last year, Variety reported. This after CNN fired a colleague of Lemon’s, former anchor Chris Cuomo, for advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was facing sexual harassment allegations.

The Variety report alleged that Lemon, whose star rose as he publicly took on then-President Trump, treated women in a troubling manner and engaged in unprofessional or volatile behavior. Most of the specific allegations were denied by a CNN spokesperson who was quoted throughout the piece.

The publication included a story alleging that Lemon, who is Black, got upset when then-colleague Soledad O’Brien landed hosting duties for the network’s high-profile “Black in America” docuseries, which launched in 2008. Lemon, the trade outlet alleged, suggested on an editorial call with roughly 30 staffers that his Afro-Cuban colleague wasn’t Black.

“Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things, so it sounds pretty on brand for him,” O’Brien told Variety about the alleged remarks, which were attributed to two witnesses who heard the call.

The CNN spokesperson told Variety that Lemon denied making any “derogatory” remarks about O’Brien’s heritage.

The spokesperson also denied allegations of hostile behavior by Lemon — including allegedly sending threatening, anonymous text messages — toward his “Live From” co-anchor Kyra Phillips in 2008. At the time, Lemon was abruptly pulled from the show and moved to weekends. Phillips declined to comment in the Variety story.

Times staff writer Stephen Battaglio contributed to this report.

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