Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, resigned from the network on Tuesday, less than two weeks after her boss-turned-lover Jeff Zucker also quit.
Jason Kilar, the CEO of CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia, announced Gollust’s departure in a Tuesday memo. He said a company investigation into “issues” related to the recent ouster of disgraced star anchor Chris Cuomo had found that Gollust, along with Cuomo and then-network president Zucker, had committed numerous “violations” of company policies. Kilar did not specify what offenses the trio had committed.
Shortly after the memo went out, Gollust chimed in with a statement of her own, blasting the company for announcing her departure prematurely.
In the email to staffers, obtained by The Daily Beast, Gollust claimed WarnerMedia had promised her she could break the news to colleagues first.
“Unfortunately they jumped the gun, breaking their promise,” she wrote. “I am sorry you had to learn this from someone other than me.”
Gollust went on to accuse WarnerMedia of making its statement in “an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.”
“It is deeply disappointing that after spending the past nine years defending and upholding CNN’s highest standards of journalistic integrity, I would be treated this way as I leave,” she continued.
“But I do so with my head held high, knowing that I gave my heart and soul to working with the finest journalists in the world.”
Zucker abruptly departed the company earlier this month, after the internal probe into Cuomo’s ethical conduct found that Zucker had failed to disclose that he’d begun a consensual sexual relationship with Gollust, whom he called his “closest colleague,” during the pandemic.
“Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years,” Gollust added in a separate statement at the time. “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.”
A network insider told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that it was just a matter of time before Gollust’s time at CNN was up.
“No one understood how Allison could stay for the same sins as Jeff,” the insider said. “It was untenable.”
One high-level CNN staffer told The Daily Beast: “Not surprising but still destabilizing. Losing two strong, well-liked executives like this is so unfortunate.”
Another staffer at the network said Gollust’s ouster was “nothing new” and not surprising but it was nevertheless “not a great look for us.”
The ouster of Cuomo, Zucker and Gollust marks an ugly end to the decades-long relationships between Gollust and Zucker, and Zucker and Cuomo.
Zucker and Gollust first worked together on the Today show at NBC, in publicist and hot-shot executive producer roles, respectively. By 2007, Zucker was president and chief executive of NBCUniversal. After a short tenure marred by the war for The Tonight Show and spiraling ratings, he was unceremoniously bought out by Comcast in 2010 after it acquired a 51 percent stake in the company.
Three years later, Zucker was appointed CNN president and he promptly hired Gollust—who had spent some time in 2012 working as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s communications director, according to The New York Times—to be CNN’s head of communications.
Around the same time, Zucker nabbed Chris Cuomo to co-host a morning show, New Day. By 2018, Cuomo had a choice piece of prime-time real estate—the 9 p.m. slot—and Cuomo Prime Time was a hit.
Over the years at CNN together, Cuomo and Zucker grew close, according to the Times’ Tuesday report, which detailed how intertwined the duo’s respective undoings were. After Zucker underwent a major surgical procedure in 2018, the Times reported, he spent large chunks of his recovery strolling through Central Park with Cuomo.
The beginning of the end came in early 2021. As a looming sexual harassment scandal threatened to engulf Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Zucker forbade Chris Cuomo from covering or interviewing his brother. But The Washington Post later reported that Chris Cuomo had been consulting behind the scenes with his brother’s team, weighing in on how to navigate the emerging accusations. CNN nevertheless stood by their anchor.
When Andrew Cuomo resigned in August after the New York attorney general found he’d harassed nearly a dozen female staffers, anxious CNN executives asked a third-party law firm to look into their anchor’s own potential misconduct, the Times reported.
Then in November, the Attorney General’s office released transcripts that showed Chris Cuomo had leaned on his media connections for dirt on his brother’s alleged victims, contrary to what he’d disclosed to his employer.
Zucker suspended Cuomo—with some reluctance, according to the Times. But the final nail in the coffin was a letter sent to CNN by Debra Katz, a well-known sexual harassment lawyer, on behalf of an anonymous woman.
The woman had worked with Cuomo at ABC News in 2011 when, she alleged, he pestered her for sex in his office. When she said no, he assaulted her. She escaped, but remained “deeply traumatized,” Katz told the Times.
“When new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no reason to delay taking immediate action,” a CNN spokesperson said at the time.
Zucker privately told Cuomo that the mounting scandals had become “too much” for CNN, according to the Times. A “livid” Cuomo, a person familiar with the matter told the Daily Beast, exited (and immediately began talks with his lawyers).
That wasn’t the end.
The firm Cravath Swaine & Moore, which was tasked by CNN in September with investigating Cuomo, continued their inquiry after Cuomo left. They broadened their line of questioning, according to the Times, to look into “how Mr. Zucker had handled Mr. Cuomo’s suspension and firing, and what he knew about Chris Cuomo’s interactions with his brother.”
In the process, lawyers asked Zucker about his relationship with Gollust. He admitted they’d begun a sexual relationship the previous year. But because Zucker was technically Gollust’s superior, it was a violation of the company’s code of conduct.
Kilar said Cravath has undertaken a “comprehensive and definitive” investigation that only finished this past weekend.
“Based on interviews of more than 40 individuals and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails,” he continued, “the investigation found violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo.”
The company is mere weeks away from launching CNN+, a subscription streaming platform packed with major media marquee names. Cuomo is reportedly still eyeing a lawsuit against the network, with damages that may climb into the tens of millions. A green-lit merger with Discovery by parent company AT&T is still far from complete.
“We have the highest standards of journalistic integrity at CNN, and those rules must apply to everyone equally,” Kilar said at the end of his memo on Gollust.
“Given the information provided to me in the investigation, I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.”