A Timeline of CNN Host Don Lemon's Controversies

After surviving sham allegations of assault, Lemon's golden reputation was restored. Then he stuck his foot in his mouth — a few times

Don Lemon CNN
Don Lemon. Photo: CNN

Don Lemon, former co-host of CNN This Morning, was abruptly fired in April after 17 years with the network, following controversial comments, tense interviews and reports that the host's own colleagues had privately expressed concerns with his behavior.

Lemon, one of broadcasting's first openly gay Black anchors, announced his departure in a tweet on April 24, expressing frustration that he allegedly learned of his termination through his agent, and not the network itself.

A network source previously told PEOPLE that Lemon, 56, was frustrated after being bumped from primetime, when he left his eight-year stint at Don Lemon Tonight to join CNN's morning show as a co-anchor alongside Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow.

Those frustrations, coupled with a high-stress environment, allegedly led to behind-the-scenes blow-ups and unfiltered comments on the air.

Below, a roundup of the longtime journalist's headline-making controversies — and which ones are rumored to have led to his swift departure.

August 2019: Lemon Is Named in an Assault Case That's Ultimately Dropped by the Accuser

In a 2019 lawsuit, bartender Dustin Hice accused Lemon of assault. After the lawsuit progressed into a trial, the allegations were withdrawn and the case was dismissed.

Hice's suit centered around an alleged July 2018 incident, in which Lemon was accused of physically and verbally attacking him during a night out in the Hamptons. From the start, Lemon emphatically denied the allegations.

In December 2021, a legal decision found that Hice offered contradictory testimony during an earlier deposition about the case, and that he engaged in "egregious conduct" after filing his suit. That included selectively destroying text messages, deleting social media posts (including his entire Twitter account, just one week after his suit was filed), and concealing unfavorable witnesses.

In January 2022, after the case had gone to trial, it was dropped by Hice and dismissed in court.

In a statement to PEOPLE via his attorney at the time, Hice said: "After a lot of inner reflection and a deep dive into my memory, I have come to realize that my recollection of the events that occurred on the night in question when I first met CNN anchor Don Lemon were not what I thought they were when I filed this lawsuit. As a result, I am dropping the case."

Lemon's attorney, Caroline Polisi, released a statement after the case was dropped calling it a "malicious and vulgar attack" on Lemon's character. The dismissal of the case, Polisi added, "fully vindicates Mr. Lemon and brings an end to this abusive lawsuit."

December 2022: Lemon Is Criticized for Saying Women's Soccer Is Less Interesting than Men's Soccer

In December 2022, Lemon drew criticism from his female co-hosts — Collins and Harlow — during a segment on women's soccer, in which he said on-air that men's soccer is "more interesting to watch."

"The men's team makes more money. If they make more money, then they should get more money," Lemon said. "The men's team makes more money because people are more interested in the men."

Saying she had "a big issue" with his remarks, Harlow then tried to explain to Lemon that the men's teams make more money because they get more advertising dollars.

"Until big media companies, Big Tech companies, advertisers, invest and put them on their airwaves more and allow people to see it more and gain more fans," Harlow said, per a Daily Beast report, "then you will push towards more equality. But if they are blocked in so many ways and not invested in as much, they don't even have a chance."

February 2023: Lemon Allegedly 'Screamed' at Collins Off-Camera

In early February, reports began to surface that Lemon had argued with his co-host Collins during off-camera moments, during which he allegedly accused her of interrupting him on-air.

The New York Post cited two sources who claimed Lemon approached Collins after filming and "screamed" at her.

"Don screamed at Kaitlan, who was visibly upset and ran out of the studio," one source told the outlet.

The source told the Post that CNN CEO Chris Licht instructed a producer to talk to Lemon and advise him to take the following day off in order to "cool off."

The blow-up was one of at least three from Lemon in recent months, a separate network source claimed in conversation with PEOPLE.

The source told PEOPLE that Lemon's co-workers at the time were "acting like everything is good. No one wants to rock the boat — they all love the show and are willing to just move on."

February 2023: Lemon Faces Backlash for Saying Nikki Haley Is 'Past Her Prime'

During a Feb. 16 episode of CNN This Morning, Lemon sparked controversy as he discussed politicians' ages in a segment with co-hosts Harlow, 40, and Collins, 30.

"This whole talk about age makes me uncomfortable," Lemon said, alluding to comments Haley, 51, has made suggesting that politicians over the age of 75 should be forced to take mental competency tests. "I think it's the wrong road to go down."

Lemon continued, "She says ... politicians are not in their prime. Nikki Haley isn't in her prime. Sorry. A woman is considered to be in their prime in 20s and 30s and maybe 40s."

Asked by Harlow to clarify what he was trying to say, Lemon responded, "That's not according to me. ... If you Google 'When is a woman in her prime,' it'll say 20s, 30s and 40s. I don't necessarily — I'm not saying I agree with that."

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The backlash was swift, with viewers calling Lemon's remarks sexist and ageist.

Hours later, Lemon apologized on social media for his comments. "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 tweeted. "A woman's age doesn't define her either personally or professionally. I have countless women in my life who prove that every day."

Lemon did not appear on air during the next three broadcasts.

During his brief hiatus, CNN staffers were notified by network chairman Licht that Lemon had agreed to undergo training after a "frank and meaningful conversation" and would soon be returning as co-host.

In a memo obtained by PEOPLE, Licht said Lemon "agreed to participate in formal training, as well as continuing to listen and learn."

"We take this situation very seriously," he added.

Lemon returned to the air six days after his comments about Haley, issuing another apology via Twitter about 25 minutes before the show began.

"I appreciate this opportunity to be back on CNN This Morning today," he wrote. "To my network, my colleagues and our incredible audience — I'm sorry. I've heard you. I'm learning from you, and I'm committed to doing better. See you soon."

April 2023: Another Controversial Interview

In April, Lemon got into a heated back and forth with Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, himself a controversial figure who has echoed the views of many far-right Republicans.

In their heated conversation, Ramaswamy — who is Indian American — argued that Black Americans had received equal rights with the help of the National Rifle Association. Lemon responded by saying it was "insulting" that the entrepreneur was "sitting here — whatever ethnicity you are — explaining to me what it's like to be Black in America."

Also during the interview, the anchor frustratedly removed his earpiece while producers were trying to speak to him, and his co-host Poppy Harlow looked down at her phone uncomfortably. At the end of their exchange, Harlow said they look forward to having Ramaswamy back on the show and Lemon reportedly snapped, "Can we move on now, please?"

April 2023: Lemon Is Abruptly Fired by CNN

On April 24, 2023, the longtime anchor announced he had been fired in a tweet reading: "I was informed this morning by my agent I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned."

Lemon continued: "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. It is clear that there are some larger issues at play."

Lemon ended his statement with a thank you to his colleagues.

"With that said, I want to thank my colleagues and the many teams I have worked with for an incredible run," he wrote. "They are the most talented journalists in the business, and I wish them all the best."

CNN has since refuted Lemon's account, saying in a statement that he was "offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter."

The New York Times reported that Lemon's behavior and comments during the segment with Ramaswamy may have been partially to blame, as it "left several CNN leaders exasperated."

Ramaswamy himself told Fox News Digital he felt the exchange "played a role" in Lemon's ouster.

In the time since Lemon's ousting, CNN has not offered an official explanation of what triggered the firing.

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