The anchor reportedly ridiculed and mocked multiple colleagues over at least 15 years, according to a Variety deep dive.
Don Lemon was known to make misogynistic remarks long before his widely derided comments last month about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
In fact, according to a scathing new report in Variety, the CNN anchor reportedly—and repeatedly—ridiculed and attacked his colleagues over his more than 15 years at the network.
“The story, which is riddled with patently false anecdotes and no concrete evidence, is entirely based on unsourced, unsubstantiated, 15-year-old anonymous gossip,” a CNN spokesperson, on behalf of Lemon, told The Daily Beast. “It’s amazing and disappointing that Variety would be so reckless.”
Lemon’s alleged misogynistic behavior at CNN dates back to at least 2008, when, according to Variety, he was so incensed over then-colleague Kyra Phillips getting assigned to cover Iraq that he reportedly tore up notes at their shared news pod and sent threatening texts to her from a burner phone.
“Now you’ve crossed the line, and you’re going to pay for it,” one text read, according to Variety. CNN leadership later traced the anonymous number back to Lemon.
A human-resources investigation was launched and, according to the trade publication, Lemon was shifted to a weekend slot—effectively a demotion at the time. A CNN spokesperson said that, according to Lemon, the incident never occurred, but the network cannot independently confirm it either way.
The alleged antics reportedly did not stop there. Lemon reportedly often felt miffed at the thought of female colleagues getting opportunities over him, including when then-colleague Soledad O’Brien was chosen to anchor CNN’s “Black in America” series in 2008. During an editorial call announcing the news, Lemon opined that O’Brien wasn’t Black, Variety reported.
“Don has long had a habit of saying idiotic and inaccurate things, so it sounds pretty on brand for him,” O’Brien, who wasn’t present on the call, told the magazine.
“Don, Soledad, and others, have in the past correctly referred to her Afro-Cuban heritage as it is a unique part of her personal story,” a CNN spokesperson said. “But Don denies making any related remark in a derogatory way.”
As such alleged episodes continued to happen—including missing editorial calls and showing up late to work in what sources described to Variety as “diva-like behavior,” and a reported frustration that Anderson Cooper and O’Brien got more airtime than he did during a 2009 Michael Jackson memorial—management tried to rein him in.
“That led to a come-to-Jesus moment,” a then-CNN executive told Variety. “Don was told, ‘Look, you’ve got to address your behavior. Your performance as a reporter is great. It’s your behavior that’s gotta improve. It’s what’s going to derail you if you’re not careful.’”
The sentiment apparently did not do much. As Jeff Zucker took control of CNN in 2013, Lemon’s clout within the network only continued to rise. Some friends told Variety they found Lemon distant, his focus shifting more to personal gain than telling impactful stories.
“I saw a new Don emerging, and I didn’t like the new Don,” a friend told Variety. “He likes celebrity. He likes fame, likes power. He was no longer the same person.”
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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