Don Lemon Denies 'Patently False' Allegations That He's Exhibited 'Troubling Treatment of Women'

Don Lemon
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN

'It's amazing and disappointing that Variety would be so reckless,' the newsman tells ET of the outlet's exposé.

Don Lemon is denying allegations of misogyny. After Variety published an exposé on Wednesday claiming that the 57-year-old CNN anchor has exhibited "troubling treatment of women and unprofessional antics" for nearly two decades, he is speaking out in a statement to ET.

"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 spokesperson on behalf of Lemon tells ET. "It's amazing and disappointing that Variety would be so reckless."

Additionally, in a comment to ET, a CNN spokesperson says, "The Variety story provides no actual proof, and instead relies on anonymous sources and unsubstantiated claims from 10 to 15 years ago. CNN is unable to corroborate the alleged accounts."

In the Variety story, the outlet alleges that Lemon's behavior of note began back in 2008 when he was co-hosting Live From with Kyra Phillips. The outlet reports that, on more than one occasion, Lemon had to be pulled off-air because of "provocative antics."

Multiple sources claim that, around that time, Lemon called one of his producers fat to her face. The same sources allege that he "mocked" Nancy Grace on-air by mimicking her. Grace declined to comment for Variety's story.

Then, when Soledad O'Brien was named the host of CNN's Black in America docuseries, two witness claim that, during an editorial call attended by roughly 30 staffers, Lemon suggested that she isn't Black. 

"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 for the alleged comment, tells the outlet.

Meanwhile, in a statement to ET, the CNN spokesperson says, "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. But Don denies making any related remark in a derogatory way."

The same year, the outlet claims that Lemon's "antipathy toward Phillips was particularly concerning." Two sources claim to the outlet that Lemon expressed disappointment that Phillips landed an assignment in Iraq over him "by tearing up pictures and notes on top of and inside Phillips' desk in the news pod they shared."

When she returned from her coverage, Phillips allegedly received two threatening text messages, one of which read, "Now you've crossed the line, and you're going to pay for it." The texts, the outlet claims, were traced back to Lemon. After an HR investigation, Lemon was demoted to a weekend anchor role, per the outlet. Phillips declined to comment for Variety's story.

"Don says the alleged incident never occurred and that he was never notified of any investigation," the network tells the outlet. "CNN cannot corroborate the alleged events from 15 years ago."

The outlet, citing more than a dozen of Lemon's former and current colleagues, claims that, throughout his career, Lemon has "flouted rules and cozied up to power all while displaying open hostility to many female co-workers" and has long "appeared to charm his way out of facing any meaningful consequences."

Among the allegations against Lemon are that he's "a shameless name dropper," who often speaks of previous lawsuits, which, to some, "signaled that he was litigious." The outlet additionally claims that Lemon exhibits "diva-like behavior," including complaining over his airtime compared to that of Anderson Cooper at Michael Jackson's 2009 memorial.

Lemon's behavior allegedly continued thanks in part, the outlet believes, to his close friendship with then-Turner Broadcasting System chairman and CEO Phil Kent.

On-air Lemon made eyebrow-raising comments such as suggesting that Black community could fix its problems by pulling up their pants. 

Goldie Taylor, a former CNN consultant who appeared frequently as a guest on Lemon’s weekend show, said she was blacklisted at the network for critiquing Lemon’s controversial comments. The CNN spokesperson wouldn't confirm as much, telling ET in a statement, "We will not weigh in on the network's booking practices of unpaid guests a decade ago."

As for Taylor, she tells Variety, "I'm never surprised when Don gets in trouble. It makes me neither happy nor sad to see him undermine his own success. There was a time when it appeared that Black people were most often the subject of his ire. Now, it seems to me that when he says something offensive, there's almost always a woman on the other side."

Lemon came under fire again in 2021 when disgraced actor Jussie Smollett testified that he first learned that police doubted his story after Lemon texted him a warning. Afterwards, Lemon declined to give the cops his phone.

"CNN reviewed the incident in question at the time and found that any interaction was an act of journalism as Don was attempting to prompt a response from Mr. Smollett and book him for his show," a CNN spokesperson tells ET.

Jeff Zucker, who was running CNN at the time, stood by Lemon, though the executive fired Chris Cuomo for advising his brother, Andrew Cuomo, amid his sexual harassment allegations. Per the outlet, in Cuomo's arbitration filings his attorney's argued that "his transgressions were similar to Lemon's."

Even when Zucker resigned as CNN's president in February 2022, Lemon remained on-air, though he did have "woeful ratings," per the outlet. In November, Lemon teamed up with Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow to co-anchor CNN This Morning, a decision one executive tells the outlet "was a recipe for disaster."

Lemon drew ire in February 2023 when, while discussing 51-year-old Nikki Haley's presidential bid, he said the politician "isn't in her prime." Sources tell the outlet that Harlow fled the set in response, with Collins following her to try to talk to her.

Afterwards, Lemon apologized on Twitter, calling his comment "inartful and irrelevant."

"I regret it," he wrote. "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 was pulled off-air for his comment, but returned just days after, with CNN CEO Chris Licht promising in an email to staff that the anchor "agreed to participate in formal training, as well as continuing to listen and learn."

"I appreciate the opportunity to be back on @CNNThisMorning today," Lemon tweeted upon his return. "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."