CNN on Its Problems with Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo

CNN’s Reliable Sources on Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo:

CNN’s parent WarnerMedia is girding for a potential lawsuit by Chris Cuomo, who was fired from his 9 p.m. time slot in December amid multiple controversies.

Any lawsuit in a case like this would air dirty laundry. And the potential of a suit may explain what transpired on Tuesday night. Nearly two weeks after CNN president Jeff Zucker was forced out of his position, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said in a memo to staffers that Zucker’s former lieutenant Allison Gollust has also resigned from the company. Kilar said she resigned after an investigation “into issues associated with” Chris Cuomo and brother Andrew, the former New York governor.

This was the key sentence in the memo: “Based on interviews of more than 40 individuals and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails, the investigation found violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo.”

So Kilar is specifically referencing the newsroom’s standards and practices guidebook. Zucker’s resignation memo referenced his failure to disclose his romantic relationship with Gollust, a violation of business conduct, not news standards.

We have the highest standards of journalistic integrity at CNN, and those rules must apply to everyone equally,” Kilar added. “Given the information provided to me in the investigation, I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.”

Gollust hits back

You may recall that on the day Zucker departed CNN, Gollust said she would continue working at the network as the head of marketing and communications. She was seen at the company’s New York office last week and was still working with her teams on the CNN+ rollout, upcoming events and other matters. Something apparently changed this week, and in a hurry, because Gollust told colleagues in an email that WarnerMedia “jumped the gun” on the announcement of her exit.

Regarding Kilar’s assertion that she violated news standards, Gollust said in a public comment, “WarnerMedia’s statement tonight is an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks. It is deeply disappointing that after spending the past nine years defending and upholding CNN’s highest standards of journalistic integrity, I would be treated this way as I leave. But I do so with my head held high, knowing that I gave my heart and soul to working with the finest journalists in the world.”

Gollust’s abrupt departure intensifies CNN’s leadership challenge. Once AT&T spins off WarnerMedia and Warner merges with Discovery, a new CNN president is expected to be named in short order.

Kilar’s memo also referred to “violations” of news standards by Zucker and Cuomo. A Zucker rep did not immediately comment on Tuesday night. A source familiar with the matter said Zucker is prohibited from saying anything more about his departure.As for Cuomo, he declined to comment via text. Here’s my full story for

Backdrop: The Cravath investigation

As I first reported on December 5, CNN retained third-party law firm Cravath to assess Chris Cuomo’s conduct vis a vis his brother’s sexual harassment scandal. What I didn’t know back then was that the investigation was initially “commissioned in September.” That’s what Kilar’s memo said on Tuesday. It “concluded this weekend,” Kilar wrote, “which now allows me to share additional information with you.”

The law firm’s initial review determined that CNN had grounds to terminate Cuomo, and that’s what Zucker did on December 4, putting an extraordinary chain of events into motion. Cuomo hired a high-profile Hollywood litigator, Bryan Freedman, and told friends that he would seek the millions of dollars that remained on his contract. The network, under Zucker, refused to pay.

The Cravath review continued — and, as I previously reported, numerous staffers throughout the organization were interviewed. On Tuesday, Kilar shared a number: “More than 40.”

Shortly before Kilar’s memo landed, The New York Times published a Page One story titled “For CNN’s Chief, Walls Were Slowly Closing In.” The five bylines were Emily Steel, Jodi Kantor, Michael M. Grynbaum, James B. Stewart and John Koblin, with contributing reporting from Ben Smith, the media columnist who left The Times in January.

Regarding the Cravath probe, The Times said, “What had started with a focus on Mr. Cuomo’s behavior was morphing into a broader look at Mr. Zucker’s handling of the anchor and his interactions with the Cuomos. Among other things, the lawyers asked CNN employees about how Mr. Zucker had handled Mr. Cuomo’s suspension and firing, what he knew about Chris Cuomo’s interactions with his brother — and whether any employees were aware of communications between Mr. Zucker and Andrew Cuomo.” The law firm’s questions to Zucker about Gollust also opened the door for their departures.

Now the outstanding questions are about Cuomo. Will he sue? Will there be a settlement? Will there be some other outcome?

Here is what Cuomo’s spokesman Steven Goldberg told me just now: “It is clear this was never about an undisclosed relationship. As Mr. Cuomo has stated previously, Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were not only entirely aware but fully supportive of what he was doing to help his brother. The still open question is when WarnerMedia is going to release the results of its investigation and explain its supposed basis for terminating Mr. Cuomo.”

In a comment to the NYT, Zucker’s spokesman Risa Heller pushed back on the “entirely aware” claim: “Jeff was never aware of the full extent of what Chris Cuomo was doing for his brother, which is why Chris was fired.”

The Times investigation also described an anonymous woman who said she was assaulted by Cuomo at ABC in 2011. The details were provided to CNN in the days before Cuomo was fired, but were not reported until now. Among the woman’s allegations: “That, in the heat of the #MeToo movement, Mr. Cuomo had tried to keep her quiet by arranging a flattering CNN segment about her employer at the time.” The segment aired. “This is by far the most serious allegation made against anyone in the whole CNN saga,” Smith tweeted, “because it’s the one that alleges the reporting was corrupted.”

Normally reporters would ask Gollust about this claim, but nothing about this situation is normal.

Cuomo’s rep reiterated his denial of the misconduct accusation and added, “He was never asked about the allegations prior to being terminated nor given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.”


 — Stephen Battaglio‘s story raises an important point: Kilar’s memo “does not disclose any details of the violations by Zucker or Gollust…” (LAT)

— Albany Times Union editor Casey Seiler tweeted: “Enough people have lost their jobs in the aftershocks of Cuomo’s ouster that they could function as a heist movie ensemble cast…” (Twitter)

— “The shape of the new Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate is emerging,” Sharon Waxman writes. “On the priorities list? Streamlining systems and rebuilding company culture…” (TheWrap)

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