Jeff Zucker resigns from CNN after relationship with colleague
In a stunning move, Jeff Zucker resigned as CNN president Wednesday, citing his failure to disclose a relationship with a longtime colleague.
The prominent media executive’s sudden departure was announced in a memo sent to CNN employees, sending shock waves through the WarnerMedia unit.
“As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years,” Zucker said in a memo to employees. “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong. As a result, I am resigning today.”
The relationship was with Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
“Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years,” Gollust said in a statement. “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.”
Zucker said in his memo that the relationship surfaced during CNN’s investigation into former anchor Chris Cuomo, who was fired in December following revelations over his involvement in managing the sexual harassment scandal that forced his brother Andrew to resign as governor of New York.
CNN named an interim leadership team made up of veteran executives Amy Entelis, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz. Entelis currently oversees talent development and CNN’s original series programming. Bass is an executive vice president for programming, while Jautz oversees HLN and business operations.
The three are expected to lead the company until WarnerMedia completes its deal to merge with Discover Inc., a landmark $43 billion merger that is expected to close later this year.
Zucker, 56, who also served as chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports divisions, was expected to have a larger role in the combined company before his nine-year run at CNN suddenly ended.
He is the latest media executive forced to step down over a relationship with a subordinate colleague, in this case a consensual one that was not disclosed to an employer, a common requirement in such situations.
The high-profile executive and Gollust have been close associates for years and have long been the subject rumors that they were romantically involved. They both divorced their previous spouses in recent years.
Former NBC “Today” host Katie Couric raised questions about their association in her recent memoir. When Zucker was executive producer of Couric’s failed syndicated talk show in 2010, he asked the host to consider hiring Gollust to handle communications.
The relationship received more scrutiny in media industry circles during the controversy at CNN over Cuomo’s involvement in managing the sexual harassment scandal that forced his brother Andrew to step down as New York governor.
Zucker faced criticism for not disciplining or suspending Chris Cuomo when it was first revealed last May that he was assisting his brother in handling the crisis, a blatant violation of journalistic practices.
Gollust also had a connection to Andrew Cuomo, serving as his communications director for four months in 2013 before joining Zucker at CNN.
Zucker fired Chris Cuomo in December. The decision came after a stinging report from the New York State Attorney General’s office revealed that the anchor had been more involved in his brother dealings than CNN executives previously realized.
An outside law firm was brought in by CNN to review the testimony by Chris Cuomo and other materials, such as text messages, which depict him developing strategies that included contacting journalists covering his brother’s situation.
After the the report was released and Cuomo was suspended, a former female colleague of his at ABC News came forward with an allegation of sexual assault, which sealed his fate. A representative for Chris Cuomo denied the allegation.
Chris Cuomo had told friends that Zucker was well aware of his activities. Cuomo was angered by the firing, which cut off his $6-million-a-year salary.
Shortly after Cuomo’s firing, a detailed speculative account on the Zucker-Gollust relationship appeared on the website Radar Online.