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Zucker on Gollust: 'She's Good, She's Fine'
New contributing editor Peter Kiefer spoke, very briefly, to CNN's former chief in LA today
Today’s newsletter is from Peter Kiefer, contributing editor to The Ankler. We are reader-supported and invite you to subscribe here.
The last time I spoke to Jeff Zucker was back in May, when I interviewed him for a piece that I was writing for Los Angeles Magazine about another controversial media figure, Twitter powerhouse Yashar Ali. The last time I was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, I was interviewing Yashar for that same piece.
So you could imagine my surprise this morning, while having breakfast at the Four Seasons with a friend who lived around the corner, when Zucker, the former president of CNN, walked past our table to have breakfast as well.
Even though he finds himself in the eye of one of the bigger media maelstroms in recent memory, no one seemed to notice Zucker or care that he was there (though a Hollywood industry hotel, the restaurant Culina is not exactly a media hotspot like Michaels in Manhattan). It was a reminder that these media scandals are more of a blip than a bomb for most folks who have the luxury of not caring. But as a reporter I do not have that luxury and I have been following the story assiduously. Like many, I had heard rumors about Zucker’s romantic entanglement with a top female executive at CNN. As we all know, that relationship triggered his resignation due to his failure to disclose it to WarnerMedia, now in the process of a massive corporate merger with Discovery. Since his resignation two weeks ago, I’d put in dozens of calls to try and drum up a new angle on a story that everyone was competing on. This wasn’t an opportunity I could miss out on.
I went up and said hello and asked a few questions. He was casually dressed in jeans, sneakers and a grey pullover and was dining with Dick Ebersol, the former president of NBC sports and a colleague of Zucker’s at the network. It was two former media titans sipping coffee.
Hours earlier, the day before, CNN’s former head of communications and Zucker’s romantic partner, Allison Gollust, had been let go from the company. “She’s good. She’s fine,” he said when I asked how she was doing. Those were the first public comments made by Zucker since WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced that Gollust, one of the first people Zucker had recruited to CNN when he took over, had resigned.
In a memo to staff issued on Tuesday evening, Kilar said that an investigation based on dozens of interviews and “over 100,000 texts and emails” had “found violations of Company policies, including CNN's News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo."
Gollust promptly hit back with her own statement. She called Kilar’s statement “an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.” She went on to say: “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. 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.”
Back at the Four Seasons Zucker was curt but kind. He put on a solid front when I asked how he’d been handling the drama (“I’m all good”). He said he was in L.A. visiting friends.
I really wanted to get his thoughts on a New York Times story that came out on Tuesday. It was vintage New York Times. The piece was co-bylined by five reporters with additional reporting by Ben Smith, the paper’s former media columnist, and one of the more feared and well-sourced reporters in the business. At thousands of words, the piece detailed the ethical lapses by both Zucker and Cuomo that led to their respective ousters. Much of it centered on a resurfaced sexual assault allegation levelled against Chris Cuomo by a former colleague when he worked at ABC News, and the messy, strange machinations he underwent to try to preemptively appease her.
The piece struck me as more favorable than damaging to Zucker but he didn’t want to discuss it. I took a few more stabs but Zucker wasn’t budging so I took my cue, said thanks and headed back to my table. Twenty minutes later when Ebersol and Zucker exited the restaurant I caught Zucker’s eye and waved. I got a nod in return.
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