“CNN This Morning” co-host Don Lemon gave a bizarre, rambling apology to co-workers — and earned a scathing rebuke from his boss — over his on-air, sexist Thursday diatribe about 51-year-old Nikki Haley being “not in her prime” that had enraged staffers and caused his co-host Poppy Harlow to walk off the set.
“The people I am closest to in this organization are women,” Lemon insisted, according to a transcript of his apology obtained by The Post. “The people I seek counsel to first in this organization are women. The person I am closest to is my mother, a woman.”
Lemon — who was conspicuously absent from Friday’s broadcast, with his co-hosts claiming he had taken a “day off” — delivered the awkward mea culpa during a 9 a.m. Friday call with editorial staffers that was led by CNN CEO Chris Licht.
The network boss blasted Lemon’s Thursday comments, confirming he had been inundated with complaints from CNN staffers and that he also was personally “disappointed.”
“I want to say I’ve heard from a lot people in the organization both directly and indirectly about how those comments have affected you, and I want you to hear directly from me that I hear you,” Licht said.
“Don and I have spoken at length. He knows I’m disappointed,” Licht added. “His remarks were upsetting, unacceptable and unfair to his co-hosts and ultimately a huge distraction to the great work of this organization.”
Lemon had said on Thursday’s show that “a woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s,” prompting co-anchor Poppy Harlow to shoot back, “Are you talking about prime for childbearing or prime for president?”
As reported by The Post, an exasperated Harlow later stormed off the set.
“I want you to know what I said on yesterday’s show about Nikki Haley’s comments about ageism, that it came out wrong. What I said came out wrong,” Lemon said on Friday’s internal call, before trying to explain “the point I was trying to make.”
“I was trying to make the point that no one’s age — not a man’s or a woman’s — should define their ambition or potential for success at anything and I was saying those comments to Nikki Haley, not my co-hosts,” he said.
Lemon spoke at length about the importance of women in his life, including his late sister, and colleagues like Dana Bash, Erin Burnett and his two co-hosts, who he said “run circles around me on a daily basis.”
After a long-winded explanation, Lemon said: “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to hurt anyone. I did not mean to offend anyone.”
“What I said came out wrong and I wish I hadn’t said it. I believe women of any age can do anything they set their minds to.”
As reported by The Post, the apology comes a day after Lemon’s rant has ratcheted up the pressure on Licht to fire the former primetime star.
Lemon on Thursday posted a tweet that read: “The reference I made to a woman’s ‘prime’ this morning was inartful and irrelevant, as colleagues and loved ones have pointed out, and I regret it.”
“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 tweeted.
The incident took place just weeks after Collins was left visibly upset when Lemon reamed her out in front of other staffers.
A well-placed source told The Post that tensions among Lemon, Collins and Harlow have been “smoldering for months.” Lemon’s latest blowup could be the final straw that compels Licht to cut ties with the now-disgraced anchor.
“Chris isn’t happy and he has spoken to Don a couple times today,” a network source told The Post on Thursday. “Don knows it can’t happen again.”
Licht spoke with staffers during an informal meeting Thursday. One staffer asked Licht about Lemon’s behavior.
“People say stupid things and that if it’s a trend, then there’s recourse,” a source with knowledge of the situation said, paraphrasing Licht’s comments.
Neither CNN nor the three anchors responded for comment.
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