Jeff Zucker resigns from CNN because of consensual relationship with key lieutenant

Zucker’s stunning announcement comes less than two months after he fired prime time curator Chris Cuomo for improperly advising his brother, then Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, about how to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct.

“As part of an investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, with whom I have worked for more than 20 years,” Zucker said. with employees in a memo. “I admit the relationship has grown in recent years. I was forced to disclose it when it started but I didn’t. I was wrong. As a result, I resign today.”

Zucker did not name his colleague, but the relationship was with Allison Gollust, his key lieutenant for the past two decades. Gollust is still at CNN.

Zucker and Gollust began working together at NBC in 1998. Together they rose through the network, and when Zucker joined CNN, Gollust was one of his first employees. Just before coming to CNN, Gollust had a brief stint as communications director for Andrew Cuomo. She is currently the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of CNN.

In a statement of his own, Gollust said, “Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for more than 20 years. Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I’m sorry for them. I didn’t disclose that at the right time. Me” I’m incredibly proud of my time at CNN and look forward to continuing the great work we do every day. “

Zucker and Gollust both divorced their partners many years ago. Rumors that their close co-workers have turned into a romantic relationship have long been the subject of speculation and occasionally appear in gossip columns. Journalist Katie Couric, who worked closely with Zucker but then had no relationship with him, even alluded to it in her tell-all memoir released last year.

News of Zucker’s resignation sent shockwaves through CNN and across the industry. CNN employees had no idea what would happen before Zucker’s email reached their inbox shortly after 11 a.m. ET.

Zucker spoke with several of CNN’s top executives Wednesday morning, shortly before he announced his departure. He indicated that he wanted to stay for a short while, to help smooth the transition, but WarnerMedia wanted otherwise.

According to two people involved in the matter, Zucker will face termination of his contract if he doesn’t step down.

For just how unexpected the news was, some of Zucker’s direct reports left the office and went on business Wednesday.

Kilar, who flew to New York to oversee the transition, moderated the Wednesday meeting that Zucker usually holds with his top executive team.

Kilar also plans to meet with employees in Washington and Atlanta, a source said.

WarnerMedia is in the process of merging with Discovery. Many media observers thought that Zucker was about to get a promotion when that deal was completed. That’s not the only reason this is a big moment for the network: CNN plans to launch an ambitious streaming service, CNN+, in the spring, and it needs to launch a 9-hour show, too. new evening hours to replace Cuomo.

In an email to employees Wednesday afternoon, Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, said three senior executives will lead CNN until the merger with Discovery is complete. : Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz.

“I have full confidence that Michael, Amy and Ken, as interim heads of News, will provide the leadership this organization needs during this time of transition,” Kilar said, adding that employees will “hear more” from the three executives “in the coming days.”

Zucker, with Gollust on his leadership team, took over CNN in 2013, at a time when industry observers said the network was facing an identity crisis.

Zucker improved the network’s programming. As a veteran of NBC, where he climbed from a producer of the “Today” show to president of the entire network, Zucker has his eye on news and talent. He also brings a practical management style and is trusted and respected by talents and employees throughout the system.

In recent years, Zucker has led the network in the face of repeated attacks from former President Trump and his supporters. Under Zucker, CNN adopted the “Truth First” news tagline and approach and relentlessly called out Trump for his lies.

The approach made Zucker a villain for Trump, with the then president attacking him during his years in office. Zucker also became a frequent abuser in the right-wing media, when the home team Fox viciously attacked him at the beginning.

All of which is evidence of Zucker’s larger-than-life status in the news business and influence over the broader discourse in American politics.

Failure from the Cuomo scandal

Zucker defended Chris Cuomo for better than a year while critics said the anchor man should have been benched or worse because of what was then publicly known about how he was advice to his brother. In the end, Zucker fired Cuomo in early December, after revealing more about how the brothers worked together to fight the charges against Andrew.

Before taking action, CNN retained Cravath, a white shoe law firm, to look into the Cuomo matter.

When Cuomo was fired, CNN said that only Cravath’s findings were “cause for termination.” But the network also said it received an allegation of sexual misconduct from a “former subordinate colleague” against Chris Cuomo. Although Cuomo denied the allegations, a CNN spokesperson said at the time, “When new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously and without reason. nothing to delay taking immediate action.”

Cravath has continued its polling, according to sources familiar with the matter. One complicating factor is Cuomo’s ongoing legal battle with CNN, which is apparently why Zucker is being questioned about his ties to Gollust, one of the sources said.

According to WarnerMedia’s Standard of Business Conduct handbook, “employees may not hire or supervise (directly or indirectly) someone with whom they have a personal relationship and if you are in a position to influence If you are interested in hiring, promoting, or hiring someone with you. Have a personal relationship or a business with which they are affiliated or have an interest, you must notify human resources in advance when taking any action. what move.”

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