In a stunning fall from grace, Jeff Zucker, the 56-year-old president of CNN, resigned on Wednesday, Feb. 2. Zucker will also step down as chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports operation.
Zucker, who is Jewish, resigned at the request of Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, after he apparently violated the company’s policy of not promptly disclosing his romantic relationship with the network’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Allison Gollust.
During the Trump administration, Gollust worked hard to defend Zucker and CNN from frequent attacks by the president. She also served as Zucker’s personal spokesperson.
In December 2021, Zucker made the difficult decision to fire the network’s top star, Chris Cuomo, brother of New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who was accused of having acted improperly in advising his brother on defending himself against charges of sexual harassment by several women.
Ironically, it was the network’s investigation into Cuomo’s firing that appears to have contributed to Zucker’s downfall. Under questioning by company lawyers, Zucker, who had led CNN since 2013, was forced to admit that he had failed to disclose his own sexual relationship with Gollust.
“I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years,” Zucker wrote in a memo announcing his resignation. “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong.”
Gollust, who, like Zucker, is divorced, indicated that she would not resign.
“Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years,” she wrote in a prepared statement. “Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time.”
The close working relationship between the two was an open secret among staffers at CNN’s New York headquarters and may have begun much earlier than both have publicly acknowledged. (Zucker divorced his wife of 21 years in 2018; Gollust divorced the year before.)
Former “Today Show” host Katie Couric mentioned the relationship in her memoir, “Going There,” published last October. In 2011, she hired Zucker as the executive producer of a new talk show that she was developing, to be called “Katie.” Couric described Zucker and Gollust as being “joined at the hip.” Zucker is also said to have pushed Couric to hire Gollust as the show’s publicist.
But, as Couric writes in her memoir, she was “really uncomfortable” about the “cozy arrangement” the two shared while still married to their respective spouses. The pair even lived in the same apartment building on Madison Avenue on New York’s Upper East Side. Zucker and his wife occupied apartment 3W. Gollust and her husband and children lived in the unit just above, 4W.
Couric claimed that she had felt there was something “super strange” about the relationship. When Zucker left the Couric program to head CNN, Gollust became the network’s spokesperson.
Zucker has been atop the television industry pecking order for most of his adult life. He became the executive producer of NBC’s “The Today Show” in 1992, at the tender age of 26, about the same time that he first met Gollust, who was then also working for NBC.
Eight years later, he was promoted to president of NBC Entertainment, where he developed “The Apprentice,” a show starring Donald Trump. Zucker was quickly promoted to progressively more important jobs in the company, and by 2007, he had become president and CEO of NBC Universal. Three years after that, when the company was acquired by Comcast, Zucker left the network and film studio with a severance package estimated at somewhere between $30 and $40 million.
His departure from CNN comes at a particularly crucial time for the news operation, which has been beset by declining ratings since Trump left office in 2020. It is on the verge of adding a new streaming service, CNN+, at the end of March to compete with its rival, Fox Nation, which launched three years ago. Fox News veteran Chris Wallace has been hired as its lead anchor.
The network is also about to change hands, having been sold — along with WarnerMedia —to Discovery Networks by its parent company, AT&T. A new publicly traded company that incorporates the entity is expected to be formed by a merger in the second quarter of 2022. The new company will be called Warner Brothers Discovery.
The CEO of the new company, David Zaslav, has been a longtime friend and golfing buddy of Zucker’s. Speculation has been building that the two veteran executives, who had first met when both worked at NBC, would eventually team up to run the new communications company.
- Bob Bahr
- Jeff Zucker
- Katie Couric
- Allison Gollust
- Jason Kilar
- Trump administration
- Chris Cuomo
- Andrew Cuomo
- Sexual Harassment
- Today Show
- talk show
- television industry
- The Apprentice
- Donald Trump
- NBC Universal
- Streaming Service
- Fox News veteran
- Chris Wallace
- Discovery networks
- Warner Brothers Discovery
- David Zaslav