Cable news network CNN has been under duress in recent years, suffering from a number of mainstream media maladies.
First and foremost, the product that they are putting on-air just isn’t resonating with our nation the way that it once did. Week after week, year after year, CNN sheds viewers while more conservative outlets such as Fox News continue to amass popularity.
And then there is the culture within the network itself, which has revealed itself to be rather disturbing and politically incestuous. Just last year, prime time anchor Chris Cuomo was relieved of his duties in part due to his use of company resources to assist his brother, the disgraced former Governor of New York State.
This week, news of more poor behavior from within CNN arrived, and it involves one of the more controversial figures at the network: Don Lemon.
Those who worked with him say he was a shameless name dropper and left behind hints that he socialized with important people, like a hand-written note from Stedman Graham that he had taped on his computer. Some were unnerved by his talk of his previous lawsuits, believing it signaled that he was litigious. He frequently let drop that he successfully sued Tower Records as well as the Chicago PD for racial profiling and didn’t need to worry about money thanks to the settlements. (Variety can only find record of the former, which was settled in 2001 and appears to be sealed. Through a CNN spokesperson, Lemon says he never sued the Chicago PD). All the while, he began openly dating a fresh-out-of-college staffer despite a major age difference and power imbalance. (Lemon was 41, while the staffer was 22.) The ambitious anchor, who is gay, was not out of the closet at the time, but wasn’t hiding it either. The pair would drive to work together in Lemon’s car and began along-term open relationship. Dating a junior employee was frowned upon at the time.
“As fast as you could make a rule, Don would bend it,” says one senior executive at the time.
And that wasn’t all.
More troubling was his misogynistic behavior, multiple sources say. Lemon called one of his producers fat to her face. Not long before he was identified as sending threatening texts to [fellow anchor Kyra] Phillips, he mocked [Nancy] Grace on air by mimicking her, shocking fellow colleagues. Grace declined comment but a person close to her tells Variety that “she thinks he’s an ass” and that he was always “rude, dismissive and really unfamiliar with the [news] content being discussed.”
“That was the beginning of when you knew that Don was kind of volatile and didn’t say good things about women,” says a witness to the Grace incident.
Lemon’s recent demotion from prime time anchor to morning show co-host doesn’t appear to have settled him down any, with a number of controversial statements and incidents having already occurred during his short AM tenure.
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