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Don Lemon offers CNN staffers excuse for Nikki Haley age comments — but staffers aren't buying 'tone deaf' apology

Paul Marotta/Getty Images

CNN anchor Don Lemon offered his colleagues a bizarre excuse for the controversial remarks he made about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

What is the background?

On Thursday's episode of "CNN This Morning," Lemon suggested that the 51-year-old Haley, who announced her campaign this week, is past her "prime."

"Nikki Haley isn't in her prime. Sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s," Lemon said.

When challenged by his co-host Poppy Harlow, Lemon explained, "I'm just saying what the facts are. Google it." The comments angered CNN employees, and Harlow reportedly stormed off the set after her exchange with Lemon.

What did Lemon tell his colleagues?

On an editorial call with CNN staffers Friday morning, Lemon apologized, defended himself, and claimed his comments were meant to encourage Haley.

"I'm sorry I don’t mean to hurt anyone. I did not mean to offend anyone," Lemon said, Fox News reported. "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. The people I am closest to in this organization are women."

"When I make a mistake. I own it and I own this one as well. I understand why you are upset and disappointed," he continued. "I was trying to make the point that no one's age should define their ambition or potential for success and I was saying those comments to Nikki Haley."

Before he spoke, network CEO Chris Licht publicly rebuked Lemon and reassured rank-and-file staffers that he understands their concerns.

"Don and I have spoken at length. He knows I'm disappointed," Licht reportedly said. "His remarks were upsetting, unacceptable and unfair to his co-hosts and ultimately a huge distraction to the great work of this organization."

How did it go over?

According to the Politico Playbook, not well.

People who were on the call said that while Lemon apologized, he seemed at times to be justifying his original comment and taking credit for apologizing. One person described Lemon’s apology as “tone deaf” and said some staff remain “furious” over the episode and want management to issue a statement responding to the situation.

Lemon did not appear on "CNN This Morning" Friday morning. CNN claimed his absence was pre-planned.

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