CNN spent Wednesday in mourning as if CNN boss Jeff Zucker had passed away when, in fact, he was pushed out for having carried on an inappropriate relationship with fellow CNN exec Allison Gollust, calling him “incredible,” “remarkable,” “larger than life,” and “singular” person who brought “a clarity of mission” to the network.
In other words, it was something North Korean news reader Ri Chun-hee would have found creepy.
With praise so gushy and reports those inside CNN are some combination of despondent and enraged over Zucker’s ouster, it’s safe to wonder whether CNN can ever be saved as a serious, sober news organization considering their desire to stay the course from what Zucker made them.
After Stelter’s initial hit on At This Hour with Kate Bolduan and a nauseating CNN.com item with Oliver Darcy, he returned for CNN Newsroom with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell. In the first of many laments, Camerota called Zucker “was a visionary leader[.]”
After Stelter walked through statements from Zucker and Gollust (who previously worked for Andrew Cuomo), Camerota said she was “feel[ing]” Zucker’s departure “deeply personally but also I think I speak for all of us...this is an incredible loss.”
Camerota further gushed that Zucker’s “a remarkable person and an incredible leader” with “this uncanny ability to make...every one of us feel special[.]”
What is this? Wedding vows? A eulogy?
She also lamented that it “feels wrong” someone had to lose their job in a scenario with “consenting adults” in “a private relationship.”
Blackwell mostly stayed silent until the end: “There’s certain a clarity of mission and a clarity of vision for — for this network that will be missed.”
Earlier, longtime CNNer Don Lemon spoke to Variety, saying Zucker was “the best boss we have had, and one of the best things that has ever happened to CNN.”
If becoming the most hated name in news with sagging ratings and a recent slew of sex scandals is the “one of the best things...ever,” then sure, Don.
Just prior to midnight Eastern Thursday, Darcy and Stelter put out their Reliable Sources newsletter and it made their CNN.com item look tame.
Stelter reported that “many CNN staffers” felt their Dear Leader was mistreated. They even quoted chief political correspondent Dana Bash as having said “the punishment didn't fit the crime.”
Adding to the cult vibe, he said “Zucker has always had detractors inside CNN, but they are outnumbered by his loyalists, and none of that loyalty eroded today” with many “disappointed and angry” at WarnerMedia.
Stelter continued taking Zucker’s word at face value that his relationship with Gollust began during the pandemic (despite copious evidence to the contrary) and opened with a cult-like picture of the puppetmaster as an everyman and that Zucker insisted they always be on the news, not themselves (click “expand”):
Jeff Zucker is a singular figure in American media.
That's why his sudden undoing is a seismic moment -- and why we're going to unpack it as best we can.
We have been at the CNN office in New York for the past 14 hours, and we have been speaking with dozens of sources, including people close to WarnerMedia management and close to Zucker.
This is a very strange story to cover. Outside these walls, Zucker is a larger-than-life figure in the news business, but here in the office, he was the boss right down the hall, always ready with a disarming joke or a story idea or a jab about the newsletter coming out too late. Now his exit is the reason why the newsletter is coming out late. We did not see this coming. But here's what we know now, based on today's reporting...
-- Zucker has always had detractors inside CNN, but they are outnumbered by his loyalists, and none of that loyalty eroded today. Staffers who were initially shocked by WarnerMedia's action turned disappointed and angry later in the day, and they felt Kilar's answers were far from sufficient.
-- Zucker was fond of reminding everyone that we play for the team name on the front of the jersey, not the individual name on the back. CNN is so much bigger than any executive. But there is a sense in the newsroom that the organization needs a decisive leader to steady the ship. In the words of one anchor, "I just don't want us to be rudderless."
He also highlighted a meeting WarnerMedia executive Jason Kilar had with CNN’s D.C. bureau, which Stelter hailed as having “grill[ed] Kilar for answers” and having come away “unpersuaded.”
Over at Politico, they reported The Lead’s Jake Tapper and chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins were some of the employees who subjected Kilar to “tough questions.”
They also cited one anonymous White House reporter: “‘Talking about ‘what you do everyday’ — Jeff is a very critical part of that,’ one CNN White House reporter said. ‘If you listen to the 9 a.m. calls, if you talk to anyone in this room … that’s how they feel.’”
As the Washington Examiner’s Seth Mandel tweeted: “Zucker lit American politics on fire and watched it burn with psychotic glee while cheating on his wife with subordinates, so yes let's make him a martyr and start a new religion.”
The creepy devotion to Zucker from Blackwell, Camerota, and Stelter was made possible thanks to advertisers such as Consumer Cellular and SoFi. Follow the links to see their contact information at the MRC’s Conservatives Fight Back page.
To see the relevant CNN transcript from December 2, click “expand.”
CNN Newsroom with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell
February 2, 2022
2:53 p.m. Eastern
VICTOR BLACKWELL: Well, now to some big news involving us here at CNN. Network president Jeff Zucker resigned today effective immediately. He says he failed to disclose a consensual relationship with a colleague when it first started.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Jeff was a visionary leader for CNN during the last nine years of what can only be called a challenging news cycle. Joining us now, CNN chief media correspondent and Reliable Sources anchor Brian Stelter. Brian, it's a tough day here at CNN.
BRIAN STELTER: It is because this is a huge surprise and it leaves a leadership void that WarnerMedia is now rushing to fill.
2:54 p.m. Eastern
STELTER: WarnerMedia has a pretty clear cut policy saying that sort of thing has to be disclosed. It's something that’s true for all employees. In fact, it happens in news rooms as we all know from time to time. You know, you have an anchor and producer or you have two reporters who — who end up dating and then they go to bosses and they disclose it. So, WarnerMedia is saying, because Zucker and Ali Gollust did not disclose it, that Zucker is out. Now, you wonder. He says he resigned. My sense from some sources is he was facing termination if he did not resign. Furthermore, he said to his leadership team today he wanted to stay on for transition period to help make a smoother transition but instead, WarnerMedia said no, you're out today.
3:56 p.m. Eastern
ALISYN CAMEROTA: But I do just want to say something personal for a moment, if I may.
VICTOR BLACKWELL: Sure.
CAMEROTA: And that is I — I feel it deeply personally but also I think I speak for all of us and our colleagues, this is an incredible loss. It's an incredible loss. Jeff is a remarkable person and an incredible leader. He has this uncanny ability to make, I think, every one of us feel special and valuable in our own way even though he is managing an international news organization of thousands of people. I just know that he had this unique ability to make us feel special. And I don't think that comes around all the time and I think, again, it's an incredible loss. And I just think it's so regrettable how it happened. If — if what you're reporting is true, these are two consenting adults who are both executives that they can't have a private relationship feels wrong on some level.
STELTER: I think there's two layers I would add to that, okay? Number one is the Chris Cuomo reference. Cuomo was fired in December and he is not going out quietly. He was fired and there are reports that he wasn’t going to get paid the millions of dollars that were going to be on the remainder of his contract. So, as a source said earlier today, he was trying to burn the place down. He was going to court trying to burn the place down and claiming that he had incriminating information about Zucker and Gollust. So, if that’s the case, if this is a domino effect, that begins with Andrew Cuomo going down in the governor’s office and then Chris Cuomo being fired from CNN and then Jeff Zucker losing his job at CNN, that is a remarkable domino effect — the chain of events. I think that is part of the story. I would also point out there may be elements here we don’t know, but for now, what we do know is that, through that Cuomo investigation, Zucker was asked about his relationship. He acknowledged it, he said he should have acknowledged it earlier, and that was the reason why WarnerMedia says he’s out.
BLACKWELL: There’s certain a clarity of mission and a clarity of vision for — for this network that will be missed.