The Hamilton Spectator
Making lemonade from Lemon’s gaffe
CNN host’s sexist comment about Nikki Haley should be a teachable moment about ageism
Don Lemon was MIA from CNN airwaves this week.
His whereabouts are unknown. It’s possible he is curled up in front of a gothic fireplace in a cream turtleneck, frantically reading Mary Wollstonecraft and Gloria Steinem while sucking on a honey lozenge to get the taste of his foot out of his mouth.
CNN’s latest unforced error came a few days ago.
Mr. Lemon was perched between Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow, the co-hosts he frequently interrupts and mansplains to on “CNN This Morning.” The subject was Nikki Haley, who is now vying to be the Republican nominee in the next U.S. election.
In declaring her 2024 candidacy, Ms. Haley spitballed blue-sky ideas, including calling for “mental competency tests” for any politician over the age of 75. This was an unsubtle dig at both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Lemon had a different take.
“This whole talk about age makes me uncomfortable,” he said, hands on hips like a backup dancer for Beyoncé. “I think it’s the wrong road to go down.”
You rarely hear someone use that idiom while also going down a wrong road.
“Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime — sorry,” Lemon continued, as my brows raised. “When a woman is considered to be in her prime (is) in her 20s, 30s and maybe 40s.”
Poppy Harlow looked repulsed, like her colleague had sprouted devil horns.
“What are you — wait — prime for what?” she asked pointedly.
At that exact moment on live television, Lemon had two choices. He could read the body language in the studio. He could realize he blurted out something astonishingly sexist and backtrack. Or he could double down. He chose the latter.
Harlow encouraged Lemon to “qualify” whatever he was yammering on about. I leaned forward in my chair, praying Dunce Lemonhead would say something like: “All I mean is that, at 51, Nikki Haley is past her prime to be an Olympic gymnast. What I was trying to say is she is past her prime to get carded at Bahama Breeze if she’s suddenly in the mood for a Tito’s Beachside Strawberry Breeze while campaigning.”
Instead, he said: “Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just stating what the facts are.”
Sigh. These biological-chronological facts can apparently be found on the web. Lemon encouraged viewers to Google “When is a woman in her prime?” If the segment went longer, he would have started a snarky debate about Madonna’s face at the Grammys.
And, somewhere, CNN honcho Chris Licht tied off a vein to mainline Pepto Bismol.
Do I believe Lemon is a raging misogynist, as some have alleged as the pile-on got higher than K2 in recent days? No, I do not. Lemon just works in television, a medium that incubates ruthless ageism, especially for women.
At 56, Lemon is older than Nikki Haley. But, tellingly, his female cohosts are considerably younger. Harlow is 40. Collins is 30. If the show ever adds a third female anchor, the successful candidate might well be in middle school.
Cable news is now more about showbiz than journalism. The unwritten hiring policies at Fox News are not dissimilar to Victoria’s Secret. In Hollywood, most female actors become radioactive to casting execs around the age of 40.
If Harrison Ford lives to be 100, he could easily reprise his Indiana Jones role and hunt for Nazis in Argentina atop a motorized scooter. Gal Gadot is just 37 and there are already industry whispers about how the clock is ticking on “Wonder Woman.”
Men are allowed to age gracefully while climbing the ladder. Women must navigate careers with an invisible Best Before date stamped on their foreheads. It’s sick.
But is outrage the best path forward? Or is outrage a guarantee for inertia?
CNN says Lemon will be back on the air Wednesday morning. He has agreed to participate in “formal training.” I can almost hear the sensitivity coach: “Don, you should never ask a woman if she’s had any work done or if she’s pregnant. Women are also not Grade AAA sirloins and should not be subjected to value judgments based on prime age. That’s meaningless. Stop giving age meaning.”
Lemon issued a public apology after his gaffe. He also apologized to colleagues during a staff meeting this week. When he returns Wednesday, he should address viewers.
And then we should all see this as a teachable moment and not yet another opportunity to atomic shame someone into cancellation based on schadenfreude.
If you truly care about making the world a better place, stop judging people by their mistakes. Give them room to learn and grow. Lemon is owning up to his folly and his apology is not for nothing when so many others are now allergic to ever saying sorry.
Can you imagine Tucker Carlson issuing a mea culpa for lying to his viewers?
Don Lemon is not Andrew Tate. He is a symptom of the disease.
Ageism is the last acceptable form of discrimination. You could argue Haley also engaged in ageism when she called for mental competency tests for anyone 75 or older. We cherish youth and ignore experience. With every passing birthday, we assume someone is losing a step instead of gaining wisdom. It’s bananas.
What Don Lemon said was wrong and indefensible — but so is the pile-on.
He apologized. Not forgiving is the wrong road to go down.