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Don Lemon Threatened to Recruit Black Leaders to 'Rally in His Defense' if Chris Licht Fired Him, Staffer Claims

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Jun. 2 2023, Published 4:00 p.m. ET

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Former CNN anchor Don Lemon sensed the writing was on the wall before he was fired and allegedly began "telling allies" that Black leaders would rally in his defense if he was let go from the network, according to a bombshell report. has learned that head honcho Chris Licht has been "eager to put his imprint on CNN," and viewers went along for the ride as Lemon bid farewell to his primetime show in October after more than eight years, paving the way for him to co-host a revamped morning show alongside Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.

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The co-hosts "were struggling to gel, in part because they had practiced so little together," Tim Alberta, who spent months with Licht and spoke with several staffers, wrote via The Atlantic in a story published this week.

"Licht had created this trio, created this new show, in hopes of injecting some flavor into CNN's lineup. He thought partnering Lemon, the opinionated, gay, Black southerner, with a pair of hard-hitting female news reporters could be the 'fun' viewers needed. But Licht, I sensed, was not having fun," Alberta noted.

Drama boiled over in February when Lemon commented that 2024 hopeful Nikki Haley "isn't in her prime," a remark for which he later apologized both publicly and privately.

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"For months, Lemon had been making the control room cringe with half-baked opinions, irritating Harlow and Collins by forcing his way into every segment, and angering Licht by adding the sort of superfluous commentary the boss had explicitly warned against," the article read, noting Licht was confronting the truth that his show might be a bust.

Licht, for the most part, wanted to keep things "light in the mornings" as viewers may be on their way to work or unable to fully process the details of their reports. He trusted Lemon to lead, Harlow to "be the stabilizer," and hoped Collins could "adjust in a hurry."

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However, as time went on and segments went awry including one on Kanye West's anti-Semitic remarks, the dynamic shifted.

It was clear that Licht had "dwindling patience for Lemon — his outfits, his ad-libbing, his opinions," claimed Alberta. "None of this should have come as a surprise."

Licht was feeling the pressure from top executives to give Lemon the boot, but he feared "setting a harsh precedent."

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Lemon pitched an attempt at damage control after the Haley turmoil: a prime-time special on misogyny hosted with a roundtable of women, but Licht shut it down.

After that, a staffer close to Licht said that Lemon was telling allies that Al Sharpton, Ben Crump, and other Black leaders were in his corner and would rally to his defense if he were fired, making his departure a "referendum on CNN's whiteness."

This claim was denied by Lemon's rep, who accused Licht's team of spreading rumors to distract from his own personal failures at CNN. has reached out for comment.



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