Radar on Zucker: Standing by the story

On Wednesday, we reported on the upcoming issue of Radar magazine, specifically describing a feature on the declining fortunes of NBC president Jeff Zucker, “Zucker Punched” by writer John Cook. The article alleged that, inter alia, Zucker had fallen out of favor with GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, NBC Universal CEO Bob Wright and Today co-host Katie Couric. As we reported this morning, Lloyd Grove’s “Lowdown” column in the New York Daily News reported that Immelt, Wright and Couric had all gone on record in support of Zucker, and in addition corrected the Radar story with regards to who broke the Neal Shapiro firing scoop. We asked Drew Kerr, spokesperson for Radar, if Radar stood behind the story. Kerr forwarded the following statement on the matter from Radar:

John Cook, a veteran correspondent with extensive network contacts, wrote Radar’s upcoming column on Jeff Zucker after talking to scores of well-informed sources both inside and outside NBC. Radar certainly stands by the story.

It’s not unusual to see corporate big wigs try to control their image in the press. Indeed, NBC embarked on its massive spin campaign before they had obtained a copy our story. Their rapid-fire, coordinated response to an article that’s not even on newsstands yet suggests that it must have really touched a nerve.

We’re not at all surprised that NBC honchos would “circle the wagons” — Lloyd Grove’s description, not ours — to publicly defend the network’s beleaguered leader. But nothing in their statements, or in Grove’s item, challenges the accuracy of our story. Cook mentions repeatedly in his article that Bob Wright has remained supportive of Zucker despite the network’s plummetting fortunes. While reporting on the widespread dissatisfaction with Zucker among NBC’s rank and file, he also noted that it would be foolish to underestimate Zucker, a canny corporate infighter and industry-wide legend who still has many friends in NBC’s executive suite.

The reference to Immelt having “a bullet with Zucker’s name on it,” came not from John Cook, but from a leading Wall Street analyst who claimed to have heard this directly from Immelt himself. All in all, the piece was hardly a hatchet job, as described it, but an even handed appraisal of a once-visionary executive who’s lately had a pretty bad run.

Finally, it was indeed Lloyd Grove who first broke the story about Neal Shapiro’s departure from NBC in his Daily News gossip column. We regret that he did not feel properly credited for this revelation. But as even Grove would probably concede, it wasn’t until the New York Times weighed in with a follow up business story, quoting unnamed NBC execs, that the story gained real traction. As Cook notes, the anonymously-sourced article provoked the ire of many of Zucker’s NBC News colleagues, who detected Zucker’s fingerprints all over the piece.