Color New York Magazine’s Shawn McCreesh skeptical about the publicized reasons for Jeff Zucker’s sudden fall at CNN. One has to admit a certain curiosity about the timing of Jeff Zucker’s departure, after all; both his affair with subordinate Allison Gollust and the network’s dismal ratings had been an “open secret” for years. Even linking everything back through to the Cuomos seems obvious in retrospect. So why now, McCreesh wonders, especially with Zucker on the cusp of a big payday in the Discovery-Warner merger?
Maybe that question answers itself, but CNN staffers aren’t buying the official line either, McCreesh notes:
But for many CNN staffers, something isn’t adding up about Zucker’s surprise resignation on Wednesday. The network’s president said in a statement that he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with his No. 2, 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. As Katie Couric wrote in her dishy memoir: “I had to wonder why Jeff was angling so hard to bring Allison on board” at Couric’s talk show, Katie. “She and her husband and kids had moved into the apartment right above Jeff and Caryn’s — everyone who heard about the arrangement thought it was super strange.”
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 in December but thought it was just rumormongering. (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’s 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.
Could someone who worked for almost two years as the CEO of CNN’s parent company have somehow missed that “open secret”? Especially since the two didn’t get along in the first place? CNN staffers apparently suspect that Kilar might have just decided to leverage this knowledge at the exact point when it would be most useful in a power play:
Indeed, Zucker was about to be in the catbird seat: Discovery, run by his pal David Zaslav, is in the final stages of merging with WarnerMedia, and Zucker’s continued reign seemed all but assured. “Everyone thinks this is Kilar taking his succession swipe back at Jeff,” says one CNN staffer. “I feel like people didn’t think that this didn’t need to be this way; Jeff said he would stay till the merger, and that’s just around the corner.”
It’s quite interesting to hear all this sympathy for a man who brought his mistress into his organization and repeatedly promoted her over other candidates. In any other organization, this wouldn’t be a “succession swipe,” it would be the end of sexualized executive management and undue favoritism, if not a flat-out hostile environment. As McCreesh notes, employees had clearly noticed the Zucker-Gollust “co-dependent power trip” as far back as 2013 when Zucker first took over CNN.
Oddly enough, no one seems to want to talk about that now, but that may not last long. Zucker’s departure left one piece of unfinished business: Gollust’s status. So far she’s kept her job, but for how long? Megyn Kelly says the other shoe will drop soon:
There is zero chance she’s keeping her job. More is coming. https://t.co/ypTJAY72V1
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) February 3, 2022
Some will undoubtedly claim that Gollust is less culpable as the junior member of this “co-dependent power trip.” That’s arguably true, but Gollust didn’t come out of the blocks yesterday sounding terribly credible either. NY Post columnist Emily Smith blasted Gollust last night for obviously lying about their affair in her statement:
Ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker’s affair with his colleague Allison Gollust was the “worst-kept secret in TV” but they conspired to keep it out of the media for years with a web of lies, sources told the Post.
Rumors have circulated for years that CNN’s two most senior executives, who made the decision to fire anchor Chris Cuomo, have been having an affair, which played a part in ending both their marriages.
Multiple sources claim CNN president Zucker and Gollust, the network’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, have been involved in a secret romance for more than 10 years, even as they lived in the same Manhattan building on consecutive floors with their former spouses.
And as the pair took vacations together, went apartment hunting and went into each other’s hotel rooms for alleged “meetings,” Gollust has spent years lying about their affair, blasting reporters on numerous occasions for being “sexist” by suggesting she was sleeping with her boss.
The affair between Zucker and Gollust — who have worked together for 25 years — stretches back to when they both worked at NBC, according to multiple sources. TV insiders call them “the odd couple” because Gollust towers over Zucker.
The risible statement from Gollust claimed that their relationship had evolved during the COVID pandemic. Apparently they both figured that CNN staffers would continue to be secret-keepers for their co-dependent power trip.
McCreesh is right — there’s more going on here than meets the eye. And there will be more to come. CNN will need to clean house top to bottom, and I’ll have more on that in an upcoming post.