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Did Chris Cuomo bring about Jeff Zucker's downfall at CNN?

  • Zucker stepping down as CNN president after nine years over an undisclosed relationship with colleague Allison Gollust seems to be a direct result of him firing Cuomo in December. A source tells CNN's Brian Stelter that Cuomo was "trying to burn the place down" following his firing. Zucker "was facing termination if he did not resign," adds Stelter. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair media reporter Joe Pompeo says Zucker's firing is being described like the ending of Reservoir Dogs. "Reading between the lines, everyone’s interpretation of this is that Chris Cuomo knifed Zucker," says Pompeo. "Zucker fired Cuomo late last year over the former anchor’s deep participation in the strategic response to the sexual harassment scandal of his brother, Andrew Cuomo—after Zucker initially stood by Chris Cuomo for months when the first revelations of his involvement came to light. (In a small-world twist worth noting, Gollust briefly worked for Andrew Cuomo between jobs at NBC and CNN.) Politico reported that, according to sources, Chris Cuomo’s lawyers 'raised issues about the relationship between Zucker and Gollust. Cuomo’s legal team asserted that Zucker was hypocritical to suggest Cuomo had a personal conflict of interest when the relationship with Gollust represented a potential conflict as well.' I’ve heard similar things, including from someone with direct knowledge of Cuomo himself bringing up the relationship in conversation. Lawyers retained by CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia, have been conducting an investigation into the Cuomo matter for the past couple of months, since Cuomo was fired, and I’m told they began asking about Zucker and Gollust in recent weeks. Sources also told me Cuomo’s team had been shopping the story around, which could explain how it ended up in a little-noticed gossip item published by Radar Online on January 4. Cuomo’s spokesman didn’t have a comment on any of this, but basically everyone I’ve talked to is saying the same thing: Zucker has effectively become the latest casualty of the Andrew Cuomo scandal. As one former TV news honcho put it, “It’s like the ending of Reservoir Dogs.” Another media executive texted me: 'I knew it from the minute they fired Cuomo.'" Pompeo adds that WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar -- who has been at odds with Zucker -- "made it clear to Zucker in a phone call within the past few days that he could not remain at the company."


    • Jeff Zucker's exit seems fishy because his romance with Allison Gollust has been one of the biggest open secrets in media: "For many CNN staffers, something isn’t adding up about Zucker’s surprise resignation on Wednesday," reports New York magazine's Shawn McCreesh. "The network’s president said in a statement that he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with his number two, Allison Gollust, before it was raised during an investigation into Chris Cuomo. (Gollust used to work as Andrew Cuomo’s communications chief before she moved to CNN and was replaced by the notorious Melissa DeRosa.) For starters, Zucker and Gollust’s relationship was one of the biggest open secrets in media. CNN staffers awkwardly navigated the pairing, since every time they dealt with her, they were keenly aware that she was involved with the boss. They were rolling their eyes at Gollust’s own statement that said 'recently, our relationship changed during Covid.' It had been going on for much longer: Page Six would wink at it from time to time, and the two have known each other since they worked together at NBC decades ago...So how could WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, not have known? A source close to Jason Kilar, the outgoing boss at WarnerMedia who accepted Zucker’s resignation, claims he didn’t know the rumors to be true until the Cuomo investigation surfaced them. The source says Kilar had first heard about the relationship when Radar Online put up an item last December, but thought it was just rumor-mongering. (This is why you shouldn’t hire a Silicon Valley person to run a New York media company — they don’t even know the good gossip.) The honchos did not get along: Zucker was infuriated by Kilar scrambling the company’s org chart so that Gollust and other senior CNN staffers would report directly to WarnerMedia. 'It’s like Allison and Jeff were on some sort of codependent power trip,' says someone who has known the pair since their NBC days."
    • Zucker's downfall began early last week: "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," reports The New York Times' Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin. "Mr. Cuomo has fiercely contested the terms of his departure from CNN, hiring the powerful Hollywood litigator Bryan Freedman to represent him in negotiations with the network. CNN was refusing to pay Mr. Cuomo severance or honor the remainder of his current contract, a sum of several million dollars, saying he had engaged in unethical conduct. Lawyers from Cravath were interviewing CNN officials broadly about Mr. Cuomo’s tenure and the events that led up to his termination, in part because CNN executives believed the dispute could eventually lead to litigation, according to the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss company business. Among other matters, CNN had been informed, days before Mr. Cuomo’s firing, of an allegation of sexual misconduct against the anchor by a former junior colleague at another network. Mr. Cuomo has denied the allegation."
    • Katie Couric alluded to Zucker and Gollust's "super strange" relationship in her recent memoir: Couric described Zucker and Gollust as "joined at the hip" in her book Going There. Zucker had been angling to bring Gollust aboard her daytime talk show Katie. “They were joined at the hip,” Couric wrote. “The problem was, we’d already hired a PR person for the show. There really wasn’t a role for Allison.” Couric also found it odd that Gollust and her family moved one floor above Zucker and his family.
    • Soledad O'Brien is stunned that Zucker and Gollust's relationship is coming out now: "I encourage you to google the two parties and read the details about their relationship that dates back years," she tweeted. "That said, I’m sure company emails can easily determine if she’s lying in this statement. Again—It was an open secret and I haven’t even worked there for like 8 years."
    • Kathy Griffin celebrates Zucker's firing: "Karma is the most patient gangster ever" 
    • CNN Newsroom host Alisyn Camerota says Zucker's exit is "an incredible loss" that "feels wrong": “Jeff was a visionary leader for CNN during the last nine years of what can be called a challenging news cycle,” said Camerota.
    • Kasie Hunt credits Zucker for being supportive behind the scenes: "Jeff Zucker’s support has meant the world to me, both at work and in life, when I was suddenly faced with my biggest ever personal challenge: getting a brain tumor," she tweeted. "I’m so proud of what we’ve built @CNNplus under Jeff’s leadership and I can’t wait to share it with you."
    • Zucker's lieutenants Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz to temporarily lead CNN

    TOPICS: Jeff Zucker, CNN, Alisyn Camerota, Allison Gollust, Amy Entelis, Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo, Jason Kilar, Kasie Hunt, Kathy Griffin, Katie Couric, Ken Jautz, Michael Bass, Soledad O'Brien, Cable News, WarnerMedia