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Don Lemon returns to CNN but does not mention controversy on air

Lemon, who had been off the air since discussing presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s age last Thursday, addressed his absence on Twitter only

Don Lemon arrives at a pre-Grammy Awards event in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 4. (Michael Tran/AFP/Getty Images)
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Don Lemon returned to co-host CNN’s morning show Wednesday, less than a week after he drew both internal and external backlash over a comment about when in life women are in their “prime,” but he did not address the controversy on air. Instead, he offered a mea culpa on Twitter before the 6 a.m. show began.

Lemon made the offending remark last Thursday morning during a “CNN This Morning” segment discussing Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley. After Haley called for “mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old,” Lemon remarked to his co-hosts that “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry — when a woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to be back on @CNNThisMorning today,” Lemon wrote Wednesday morning. “To my network, my colleagues and our incredible audience — I’m sorry. I’ve heard you, I’m learning from you, and I’m committed to doing better. See you soon.”

Lemon was off the air on Friday for a previously scheduled trip, was off Monday for Presidents’ Day and then stayed off the air Tuesday morning as well, leading some network insiders to wonder whether the former prime time host ever would return to the show, which was launched only in November.

But Chris Licht, the chief executive of CNN, ended that speculation by telling staffers in a memo late Monday night that Lemon would return Wednesday morning.

Licht said that he and Lemon “had a frank and meaningful conversation” about Lemon’s comments. “He has agreed to participate in formal training, as well as continuing to listen and learn,” the executive said. “We take this situation very seriously.”

Explaining his decision to allow Lemon to return to the network’s on-air programming, Licht said in a memo that “it is important to [him] that CNN balances accountability with ... fostering a culture in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes.”

Lemon had previously expressed remorse for his comments, addressing them on social media and directly to his colleagues. “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,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. “A woman’s age doesn’t define her either personally or professionally. I have countless women in my life who prove that every day.”

At a CNN editorial meeting on Friday morning, Lemon said, “When I make a mistake, I own it. And I own this one as well.”

During a segment near the end of Wednesday’s show about companies in Britain testing a four-day workweek, Lemon suggested he’s not interested. “I like working,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Although the show is new, “CNN This Morning” has struggled to gain traction with viewers. In January, it attracted an average of 372,000 total viewers, according to Nielsen data, compared with 827,000 for MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and 1.2 million for “Fox & Friends” on Fox News.