[guest post by JVW]
A follow-up to yesterday’s post on the departure of former CNN honcho Jeff Zucker when it came to light — though it appears now that everybody seemed to know — that he was carrying on romantically with Executive Vice-President and Head of Marketing Allison Gollust. First, an interesting Tweet storm from Megyn Kelly from Wednesday evening and Thursday morning:
Always trust content from Megyn Kelly. (Just kidding, Boss. Please don’t fire me.)
And it appears that she will be proven correct. Earlier today, Rolling Stone published an article alleging what so many of us have suspected: that this relationship between Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust actually began, oh, about two dozen years before Ms. Gollust acknowledges:
In relationships, timing is everything. And the timeline on Jeff Zucker and Allison Gollust’s coupledom is not only off by more than two decades, say sources who have worked with the pair — the CNN power couple also repeatedly lied about their relationship to their corporate bosses.
According to CNN president Zucker’s Feb. 2 resignation memo to staff, the romantic relationship — which marked a flagrant violation of corporate policy given that Gollust, the network’s top communications executive, was a direct report to Zucker for most of her nine-year tenure there — began sometime in the past two years. Gollust said in that same memo: “Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years. Recently, our relationship changed during Covid. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time.” Added Zucker: “The relationship evolved in recent years.”
Zucker noted in his memo that WarnerMedia’s ongoing investigation into Chris Cuomo — who was fired in December for a breach of ethics after it was discovered he’d been advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while the latter faced accusations of sexual harassment — brought the affair to light and prompted his resignation. And it seems the probe, which is being overseen by the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, is unearthing plenty of embarrassing details about the goings-on at CNN. The scope of the investigation has now expanded to include Zucker and Gollust’s relationship with Andrew Cuomo, too, a WarnerMedia source acknowledged.
But sources who worked closely with Zucker and Gollust dating back to their days at The Today Show in the mid-Nineties dispute their statements in the memo. In reality, these sources tell Rolling Stone, Zucker became romantically entangled with Gollust back in 1996, when she was a trainee in NBC’s corporate communications group and he was the married executive producer of The Today Show. “It was the worst-kept secret, but Jeff was seen as untouchable,” says one insider. “And their statements [in the memo] are total bullshit.”
The article goes on to report that WarnerMedia (the parent company of CNN) had repeatedly questioned the clandestine lovers regarding rumors that had made it as far as the gossip pages of the New York Post, and that at one point they launched a formal investigation that did not lead to any disciplinary action. WarnerMedia denies that they ever investigated, though they do confirm that they had asked both Zucker and Gollust on more than one occasion about the nature of their “friendship.” It also informs us that when new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar arrived in May 2020, Zucker was shorn of his responsibility overseeing CNN’s finances, human resources, and corporate communications, the latter of which meant that Gollust no longer reported directly to him. The Rolling Stone reporter, Tatiana Siegel, had questioned WarnerMedia as far back as September 2020 as to whether that restructuring had anything to do with the gossip that the CNN chief was sleeping with his marketing director, but a Warner spokesperson refused to answer.
When AT&T divested itself of WarnerMedia the following spring, Kilar began negotiating an exit arrangement and the word around the office was that Zucker would be given back much of the oversight authority that he had lost the previous year. In fact, rumors abounded that Zucker would amass even more authority in a new CNN-Discovery Channel conglomeration, while Gollust would be in line to become the new boss at CNN. These plans got waylaid by the Cuomo imbroglio, which as we know laid bare (yeah, my double entendres again; sorry) the nature of the relationship between Zucker and Gollust, as well as the connections the two had with the stupid, venal, and thuggish Cuomo brothers:
The source says the investigation suggests Zucker and Gollust were advising the governor at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in ways not dissimilar to what led to Chris Cuomo’s dismissal. As Andrew sparred on a daily basis with then-President Trump over Covid messaging, the couple provided the governor with talking points on how to respond to the president’s criticisms of the New York crisis. They also booked the governor to appear on the network exclusively, which became a ratings boon for CNN, with Chris Cuomo doing the interviewing. Cuomo and Gollust’s conduct, too, would appear to mark an ethical breach for executives acting on behalf of an impartial news outlet.
“The autonomy of a news organization requires it to not be engaged in any sort of direct activity with any political actor,” says Tim Gleason, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon and media ethics expert, speaking broadly. “If they’re advising a politician [while] presumably reporting on activity that that politician is engaged in, that’s duplicitous and deceptive and a disservice to the audience of a news organization.”
Here’s a timeline of the Zucker/Gollust professional relationship. As you follow it, recall that it is alleged that their romantic entanglement began in 1996:
1996 – Zucker is a producer for NBC’s Today show; Gollust is a trainee.
1997 – Zucker remains a producer; Gollust becomes senior publicist, reporting to Zucker. Gollust soon also begins working on other NBC shows.
2000 – Zucker becomes president of NBC Entertainment; Gollust continues to work in publicity for multiple news shows under the NBC umbrella.
2006 – Zucker becomes CEO of NBC Universal.
2009 – Gollust becomes Executive VP of NBC Universal and Zucker’s chief spokeswoman.
2010 – Zucker ousted in June when Comcast acquires controlling stake in NBC Universal; Gollust resigns her position in December.
2012 – Gollust becomes communications director for Andrew Cuomo.
2013 – Zucker named President of CNN in January, hires Chris Cuomo; Gollust comes aboard as Senior VP for Communication.
What is sad and pathetic is the report published in Vanity Fair yesterday detailing an internal meeting held at CNN on Wednesday in which many members of the staff expressed their dismay at how unfairly their former boss was being treated by mean old Jason Kilar, who apparently stayed around as CEO after all. Featured prominently is a fantastically mindless claim by a staffer that she had received a call from a member of Congress (betcha it’s either Zoe Lofgren or Adam Schiff) who currently serves on the January 6 Committee and claimed to be “devastated for our democracy” that Zucker was shitcanned. Jake Tapper, who publicly has stayed pretty quiet on the matter except for a few retweets here and there, asked if firing Zucker wasn’t handing Chris Cuomo a victory of sorts (the answer would be no, Jake, because CNN is still refusing to pay Cuomo any severance money). How a bunch of alleged journalists could be so surprised at these developments — the execrable Brian Stelter acts as if yesterday was the first inkling he ever had that the two executives might be an item, which, if true, makes him the least observant journalist in the fucking world (slipped in another double entendre there; not sorry) — is beyond me, but it’s a solid bet that the general sense of contentment and professional inertia apparent at CNN would go a long way towards explaining why that network’s ratings continue to slide more alarmingly than the agony of defeat guy.
I expect we’ll hear even more in coming days, and that eventually (perhaps even by the time you are reading this) Allison Gollust will join her lover in the unemployment line. But what a messed up story, and what an indictment on how dysfunctional the world of big media truly is.