The top media story of the day (and the year to-date) transpired Wednesday, as CNN Worldwide president, WarnerMedia News & Sports chairman Jeff Zucker abruptly resigned from the company after nine years as CNN boss.
In a note to his colleagues, first tweeted out by CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter, Zucker mentions that as part of the Chris Cuomo investigation, he was asked about a “consensual relationship” with his longtime colleague, Allison Gollust, who is CNN’s evp, chief marketing officer and chief spokesperson. Zucker and Gollust, both divorced, have known each other and worked closely with one another since their days at NBC News.
“I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong,” Zucker wrote to staff.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar then demanded that Zucker resign, so resign he did.
Gollust, however, is staying at CNN. In a statement of her own: “Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years,” adding, “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.”
Kilar is meeting with CNN staffers in the company’s three main bureaux—New York, Washington and Atlanta.
According to Stelter, Kilar began Wednesday in New York, where he met with some of the network’s most-senior leaders.
Then he traveled to the DC bureau, where the reception on Wednesday night was reportedly frostier. Some of the network’s top anchors and correspondents reportedly peppered him with questions about what just happened and why their longtime boss was fired. Kilar was asked if “any past conflict” he had with Zucker played into the decision-making process, according to Stelter, citing his sources (DC colleagues). Kilar reportedly remarked that “the facts are the facts” and declined to “get into details” about certain questions.
When one reporter reportedly grilled Kilar on whether he had consulted other CNN executives during the process, Kilar said he would not answer. He later commented that he does not usually “canvas” people outside HR and legal teams when making such decisions. Kilar repeatedly cited company “values and principles” in his answers, and said “I feel comfortable in my decision. I do.” But according to Stelter, D.C. bureau staffers remained displeased.
New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum added the following:
CNN’s DC newsroom confronted Jason Kilar, CEO of WarnerMedia, in a tense hour-long meeting last night over Jeff Zucker’s resignation.
Jake Tapper asked about the notion that Chris Cuomo “blew the place up”:
“How do we get past the perception that this is the bad guy winning?”
— Michael M. Grynbaum (@grynbaum) February 3, 2022
Kilar has named three veteran CNN executives to lead the network through the upcoming merger with Discovery, which is slated to become official in the second quarter: evp of CNN U.S. programming Michael Bass, evp of talent and content development and CNN Original Series and Films boss Amy Entelis and the longest-tenured of the three, Ken Jautz, who is evp of CNN/U.S., responsible for HLN, as well as group operations, business affairs and the Newsource affiliate service.
Zucker also had oversight of Turner Sports. Kilar announced that Lenny Daniels will continue to serve as president and lead Turner Sports & Bleacher Report. Patrick Crumb will continue as president and head of the regional sports networks.
Bass, Entelis and Jautz have their work cut out for them at CNN. It has seen the most significant year-over-year audience losses of the three major cable news networks. It’s poised to launch a new, robust streaming service CNN+, and then there’s the aforementioned merger with Discovery, all taking place during a midterm election year.