CNN President Jeff Zucker announced he’s stepping down on Wednesday over a romantic relationship with his “closest colleague,” much to the shock and dismay of many colleagues.
“As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, 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 shocking memo to staff on Wednesday morning. “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong.
“As a result, I am resigning today.”
While Zucker did not name the “close colleague” with whom he shared a relationship, CNN reported that it was Allison Gollust, CNN’s chief marketing officer, who will remain with the network.
“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,” Gollust added in a separate statement. “I’m incredibly proud of my time at CNN and look forward to continuing the great work we do everyday.”
Both Zucker and Gollust are divorced. Their close relationship had raised eyebrows prior to this week, as Katie Couric noted in her recent memoir that when he helped launch the former Today show host’s short-lived syndicated show, Zucker pressed her to hire Gollust to oversee publicity. “I had to wonder why Jeff was angling so hard to bring Allison on board,” Couric recounted. “She and her husband and kids had moved into the apartment right above Jeff and [his then-wife] Caryn’s—everyone who heard about their cozy arrangement thought it was super strange.”
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar added in a staff-wide memo obtained by The Daily Beast that network executives Michael Bass, Amy Entelis, and Ken Jautz will serve as co-heads of the network in the interim.
The immediate reactions from within CNN ranged from shock to outrage.
“People are pissed” about Zucker’s ouster, one CNN executive told The Daily Beast. “No one thinks the punishment fits the crime.”
“Notice Zucker mentioned how this came from the Cuomo investigation,” said a senior CNN source. “People think this is clearly Cuomo dragging down Zucker on his way out.” (Cuomo was fired by the network late last year after it was revealed he dug up dirt on the women who accused his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of sexual misconduct. A “livid” Cuomo was reportedly “prepping” to sue the network and retained powerful entertainment lawyer Bryan Freedman.)
Prior to Cuomo’s firing, Zucker and the veteran TV reporter were considered tight, with the CNN boss having personally recruited Cuomo from ABC News and stuck by him for months amid the brother-related scandal. Gollust, meanwhile, also has longstanding ties to the Cuomo family, as she briefly served as Gov. Cuomo’s communications director a decade ago.
According to The New York Times, Zucker’s exit was precipitated when Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the law firm the CNN retained to investigate Cuomo’s tenure, began asking Zucker and Gollust about their relationship.
Still, multiple CNN stars who spoke with The Daily Beast expressed dismay with his abrupt exit.
“I came to this network with Jeff,” CNN political analyst and former host S.E. Cupp told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know this network without Jeff. A stunning turn of events and an unknown future.”
Fellow CNN on-air personality Ana Navarro added: “I have incredible respect and affection for Jeff Zucker... When Trump representatives pressured him to fire me, he basically told them to fuck off. He steadfastly defended me and others the network who were targets of Trump even when it was hard and brought consequences. I love the guy.”
“We are all devastated,” said New Day co-host Alisyn Camerota. “Jeff is beloved here. We all know we’ll never find a smarter or more compassionate boss.”
“Jeff Zucker is gone—congratulations to all!” former president Donald Trump wrote in a giddy statement celebrating Zucker’s exit.
“The guy who arguably made Trump president is resigning under disgrace,” one CNN staffer told The Daily Beast, referring to the common criticism that Zucker—via his previous role as an NBC executive overseeing Trump’s reality TV shows and then as CNN chief overseeing the incessant coverage of Trump’s 2016 campaign—effectively created a destructive media force that became president.
Zucker’s sudden departure comes just as CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia is about to merge with Discovery following a spinoff from AT&T.