Don Lemon returning to 'CNN This Morning' amid internal 'tension': A look at the simmering scandal

Don Lemon will return to CNN This Morning after Nikki Haley controversy.
Don Lemon will return to CNN This Morning after Nikki Haley controversy. (Photo: Reuters)

Don Lemon will participate "in formal training" following uproar over sexist comments he made while discussing Nikki Haley. The embattled CNN This Morning host has been off the air since Thursday's controversy, but will return on Wednesday. The news comes as a report claims there are internal discussions about the journalist's future at the network.

CNN CEO Chris Licht sent a memo to staff on Monday night addressing the situation.

"I sat down with Don and had a frank and meaningful conversation. He has agreed to participate in formal training, as well as continuing to listen and learn. We take this situation very seriously," Licht said in the note obtained by Yahoo Entertainment. "It is important to me that CNN balances accountability with fostering a culture in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes. To that end, Don will return to CNN This Morning on Wednesday."

No details were provided on the type of training and CNN is not commenting. However, a source tells Yahoo there are various resources that will be provided by the network and Lemon is committed to the planned path forward.

The Daily Beast's Confider reported that Lemon's employment at CNN could be in jeopardy; however, a second source disputes that to Yahoo.

"There are ongoing conversations about Don's future," a person claimed to Confider. "He is a constant distraction."

While Yahoo's insider admits "there's been tension" between Lemon and some of his colleagues, "there is no indication" he'll be ousted over the scandal.

Last week, Lemon sparked widespread backlash for declaring that Haley, a 51-year-old Republican presidential candidate, "isn't in her prime." The fiasco is the latest in a string of drama surrounding the anchor since CNN This Morning launched three months ago.

Nov. 2022

CNN debuted the new marquee morning program anchored by Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. The show replaced New Day and was one of Licht's biggest programming shake-ups since he took over as head of the network in May. Lemon said goodbye to his primetime show Don Lemon Tonight after eight years ahead of the move.

"There is no stronger combination of talent than Don, Poppy and Kaitlan to deliver on our promise of a game-changing morning news program," Licht said in a press release, calling the trio "uniquely intelligent, reliable and compelling" while highlighting their "rare and palpable chemistry."

Dec. 1, 2022

Lemon, Harlow and Collins's "chemistry" was on full display while discussing pay equity for the U.S. women's soccer team — and it was fiery. Lemon seemingly shocked his co-anchors by saying that "everyone is going to hate me," but the men's team, not women's, is responsible for the boost in popularity in soccer.

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

Harlow pushed back, causing Lemon to declare he's "not sexist" because he grew up "the only boy in a family of all women."

"But not everybody, honestly, has the same skill. Not everybody has the same interest in the sport. I think the women should be paid more, I do," Lemon added. "But if the men —"

"You're right that not everyone has the same skills because the women have better skills," Collins interjected.

"Mic drop!" Harlow smiled.

"The women are better skilled against other women," Lemon added. "But if the women played the men, they wouldn't be winning the way that they win."

Collins and Harlow seemed irritated as Lemon doubled down on how the men's team makes more money "because people are more interested in men."

"I'm saying [women] should get paid more money, but if there's more interest in the men's and more money is coming in in the men's sports, those men are entitled to that money," he added.

"But I don't think you're looking at the root of the issue, which is why are people more interested in the men's sports," Collins pushed back.

"Because it's more interesting to watch," Lemon declared. "I'm kidding. That was a joke, I didn't mean that."

Lemon's take made headlines.

Dec. 8, 2022

Collins and Lemon had an awkward exchange while covering breaking news of Brittney Griner's release from Russia. There were multiple times where Collins tried to interject, which appeared to irk Lemon. At one point, he waved his finger at her and told her to "standby."

Dec. 9, 2022

Lemon "skipped hosting duties with little advance notice," Puck News reported, as sources gave conflicting reasons as to why. Some claimed he was tired from traveling for the White House Christmas party, others pointed to the testy segment with Collins one day prior.

Feb. 2, 2023

A pair of reports from Page Six and Fox News claimed that after the Dec. 8 on-air dust up, Lemon "snapped" at Collins behind the scenes.

"At this point, Kaitlan wants to be on set with Don as little as possible," a source with knowledge of the situation claimed to Page Six calling the situation "messy."

Feb. 7, 2023

Collins conducted an interview with James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee, for CNN This Morning about upcoming hearings on Hunter Biden's laptop. After their sit down, the show cut to Harlow and Lemon in studio and the latter was dismayed that Comer cited the New York Post as a credible outlet. While Lemon may have just taken issue with Comer's responses, given his past on-air tension with Collins, it appeared as if he was criticizing his colleague. Harlow jumped in and praised Collins for "fact-checking in real time" and doing a "great interview."

Feb. 16, 2023

Lemon set the internet ablaze with his comments about Haley while discussing the former South Carolina governor's remarks that there should be a mental competency test for any politician over age 75.

"Nikki Haley isn't in her prime, sorry," Lemon declared. "A woman is considered to be in their prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.

Harlow asked Lemon to clarify his stance while Collins looked on stoic.

"If you Google 'when is a woman in her prime?' it'll say 20s, 30s and 40s," Lemon said.

Hours later, Lemon attempted to apologize as he called his comments "inartful and irrelevant."

Feb. 17, 2023

Lemon had a well-timed planned absence from CNN This Morning. However, he was facing heat both internally and externally. On an editorial call, Licht condemned Lemon's comments.

"His remarks were upsetting, unacceptable and unfair to his co-hosts, and ultimately a huge distraction to the great work of this organization," Licht told his staff, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times.

Lemon called into the meeting and apologized for six minutes, making it clear he stands against racism and sexism.

"I am sorry," Lemon said per the Times. "I did not mean to hurt anyone. I did not mean to offend anyone." He name-checked female colleagues like Dana Bash and Erin Burnett, explaining "the people I'm closest to in this organization are women."

Feb. 20, 2023

CNN This Morning aired without Lemon, an absence that was not pre-planned, notes one of Yahoo's sources. Licht sent a memo on Monday night announcing Lemon's return and that the anchor will undergo "formal training."