Digging Deeper Into Jeff Zucker’s Resignation From CNN

From The Poynter Report With Tom Jones:

Jeff Zucker was expected to step down as president of CNN sooner rather than later. But no one thought he would step away Wednesday — and for the reason he did.

In a bombshell announcement, Zucker abruptly resigned after revealing that he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with another senior CNN executive.

He told staff in a memo, “As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years. I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong. As a result, I am resigning today.”

Zucker didn’t name the colleague, but that colleague was Allison Gollust, an executive vice president and the chief marketing officer for CNN. Gollust put out her own memo that said, “Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years. Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time. I’m incredibly proud of my time at CNN and look forward to continuing the great work we do everyday.”

Gollust is staying at CNN.

According to The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin, both Zucker and Gollust are divorced.

So this is where this all gets a little messy and the timing seems odd.

First, there are some who might ask that if Zucker and Gollust are both single, and adults, and everything is consensual, what’s wrong with them being in a relationship? Especially when you consider that, apparently, their relationship was an open secret. Several gossip sites have even written about it before now, and veteran journalist Katie Couric hinted at it in her recent memoir “Going There.”

But let’s be clear. Any relationship between a boss and an employee is fraught with trouble — allegations of favoritism, potential lawsuits, etc. It just makes for a sketchy and uncomfortable work environment for everyone.

There’s more to untangle.

Prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo was close with Zucker … who was in a relationship with Gollust … who briefly (for four months in 2012-13) worked for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo … who is the brother of Chris Cuomo … who was fired after overstepping his role as a journalist in helping his brother fight multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

What a messy circle that could get messier. Chris Cuomo is suing CNN over his firing.

Grynbaum and Koblin wrote, “The events that led to Mr. Zucker’s exit started early last week, when both Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were asked about their relationship by lawyers from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a law firm that had been retained by WarnerMedia to investigate Mr. Cuomo’s tenure at the network, according to two people briefed on internal deliberations.”

Puck News’ Matthew Belloni tweeted, “Potentially important: I’m told CNN received a litigation hold letter recently from Chris Cuomo lawyers, demanding, among other things, preservation of all communications between Zucker, comms chief Allison Gollust, and Andrew Cuomo.”

Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo wrote, “Reading between the lines, everyone’s interpretation of this is that Chris Cuomo knifed Zucker.”

Pompeo also wrote that Jason Kilar — chief executive of WarnerMedia, which owns CNN — made it clear to Zucker in the past few days that Zucker couldn’t stay.

While there have been rumors that Zucker was going to step away from CNN sometime during 2022, his sudden resignation comes at a critical time. WarnerMedia is merging with Discovery. In addition, CNN is about to launch its streaming service, CNN+, in the next couple of months. That’s not the optimum time to have a major leadership shakeup.

Kilar said in a memo to staff that three senior executives — Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz — will be in charge on an interim basis, at least until the merger is concluded.

Kilar wrote, “I have full confidence that Michael, Amy and Ken, as interim heads for News, will provide the leadership this organization needs during this time of transition.”

While Zucker’s time at CNN comes to an unceremonious end, his impact has been significant. Zucker, 56, has been at CNN since 2013 and is considered one of the most powerful people in media. Before CNN, Zucker worked at NBC since the 1980s and was the chief executive of NBCUniversal from 2007 to 2010. (Gollust also worked with Zucker at NBC.)

Overall, Zucker was well-liked and respected by most of those at CNN, and there’s no denying his and CNN’s power and influence in news media.

CNN prime-time anchor Don Lemon told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “I am devastated. I just think so highly of Jeff, and he is the best boss we have ever had, and one of the best things that has ever happened to CNN. There are probably going to be a lot of nervous people at CNN because Jeff is really the glue there. He made us relevant again.”

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota told The Daily Beast, “We are all devastated. Jeff is beloved here. We all know we’ll never find a smarter or more compassionate boss.”

Camerota went on the air and continued to praise Zucker and even said, “These are two consenting adults who are both executives. That they can’t have a private relationship feels wrong on some level.”

But there is something wrong with the boss of a company having a relationship with someone at the same company and not, officially, revealing that relationship. And it could be there is much more to it than his relationship with Gollust.

In his memo to staff, Zucker said, “Together, we had nine great years. I certainly wish my tenure here had ended differently. But it was an amazing run. And I loved every minute.”

But you get the feeling that this isn’t the end of this saga, and there will be more — much more — to cover in the coming days and weeks.

Speak Your Mind