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According to a memo, Zucker resigned after being asked about a personal relationship with a close colleague as part of the network’s investigation into Chris Cuomo. The colleague was Allison Gollust, who leads marketing and communications for CNN, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter.
“I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong,” Zucker wrote. “As a result, I am resigning today.”
“Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years,” Gollust told Stelter in a statement. “Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time.”
In a note to staff Wednesday, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said that he had accepted Zucker’s resignation. Not long after, he revealed the new leadership team running CNN in Zucker’s absence: Michael Bass, who leads CNN programming, Ken Jautz, who oversees operations, business affairs, and HLN, and Amy Entelis, who oversees talent and content development.
Meanwhile, Lenny Daniels will lead Turner Sports and Bleacher Report, while Patrick Crumb continues as the head of the regional sports networks.
“I have full confidence that Michael, Amy and Ken, as interim heads for News, will provide the leadership this organization needs during this time of transition,” Kilar wrote. “You will hear more from Michael, Amy, Ken, Lenny, and Patrick in the coming days but I wanted you to be aware of these decisions that have been made.”
“Both of these organizations are at the top of their respective games and are well prepared for their next chapters,” he added.
Inside CNN, one source described the unexpected news as “stunning.” Zucker was widely-liked by CNN talent, leading one person to compare the mood to that of a funeral.
“This was an incredible loss. Jeff is a remarkable person and an incredible leader. He has this uncanny ability to make every one of us feel special and valuable,” CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota said on her program Wednesday afternoon. “It is so regrettable how it happened. These are two consenting adults who are both executives, that they cant have a private relationship? It feels wrong.”
Zucker’s departure is the latest example of fallout stemming from the investigation into former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The investigation ultimately led to CNN firing primetime host Chris Cuomo (his hour remains unfilled), and forced Time’s Up to effectively shut down and restructure itself after top executives were found to be sounding boards for the governor.
Zucker joined CNN in January 2013, transforming the cable news channel with a hands-on approach to programming. He rebooted many of the channel’s daytime hours and turned its primetime lineup into a more analysis- and opinion-driven affair, leaning on talent comfortable with taking hard stances on tough issues like Cuomo and Don Lemon.
Of course, CNN’s success has always been closely tied to the news cycle, with 2020 and 2021 ending up as the most watched and second-most-watched years in the channel’s 40-year history.
Gollust has worked with Zucker for years, having led his corporate communications team at NBC, and re-joining him at CNN in 2013 (ironically, before joining CNN she worked as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s communications director). A personal relationship had long been rumored between the two among staff and by executives at other companies, although they never disclosed it publicly.
When Kilar took over WarnerMedia, he restructured the company, taking areas like finance, human resources and communications — which Gollust ran — out from Zucker’s org chart.
A source said that Zucker and Gollust were asked about their relationship in recent weeks by the law firm investigating Chris Cuomo.
Zucker departs the channel as it prepares to launch its biggest project yet: A direct-to-consumer streaming service called CNN+. He had previously pledged to stay at CNN until parent company WarnerMedia completed its merger with Discovery Inc. He had often been named as someone who could take on a broader portfolio at the combined company, given his close relationship with Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
Before joining CNN, Zucker was CEO of NBC, having previously led the network’s entertainment division, and serving as executive producer of the Today show.
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