Survey Suggests Viewers Are Forgiving of Don Lemon

Don Lemon
Photo Illustration: VIP+: Lemon: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Don Lemon may have put his foot in his mouth, but that doesn’t mean he deserves a kick in the pants.

That’s the consensus sentiment from a new Ipsos survey conducted exclusively for Variety Intelligence Platform that found 56% of respondents across demographics believe the CNN anchor didn’t deserve any punishment from the network for his controversial on-air comment last month that Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was not “in her prime” because her age isn’t in her 20s, 30s or 40s.

Which isn't to say the 1,000+ Americans surveyed online on March 2-3 felt Lemon was right to say what he did; 60% of respondents think it’s inappropriate for a public figure to make such a statement on TV. Men and women agree in roughly equal numbers—57% and 62%, respectively, which is not a statistically significant difference. 

Among those who do think anchors should be punished for this kind of utterance, they are actually supportive of what CNN did: A plurality say the individual should have to undergo formal sensitivity training, followed by being made to apologize.

While CNN faced a lot of criticism in the news media, the survey suggests the controversy was something of a tempest in a teapot among the public. Just 20% of Americans have heard a great deal or a fair amount about Lemon’s comments, and nearly half of those questioned had heard nothing at all.

Those who are aware of Lemon’s comments are slightly more likely to think the public figure should be disciplined, with 51% saying yes to some sort of employer action versus 37% who had not heard of the incident. Their preferred punishment isn’t really different or more severe than the broader public, though.