Hours after Jeff Zucker stepped down as president of CNN on Wednesday, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar visited staffers in New York and Washington, D.C., where reports say he was challenged by on-air talent over the decision to force Zucker out. Zucker acknowledged Wednesday that his departure had to do with his relationship with another executive, Allison Gollust.
The New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum shared a transcript of Jake Tapper’s questioning of Kilar. Tapper, like many others, questioned if the timing of the ouster had anything to do with Zucker’s firing of former 9 p.m. ET anchor Chris Cuomo in December, saying, “If you could address the perception … that Chris Cuomo gets fired by CNN, Chris Cuomo hires high-powered lawyer who has a scorched-earth policy, who then makes it very clear to the world that unless Jeff gives Chris Cuomo his money, they’re going to blow the place up. Stuff starts getting leaked to gossip websites about Jeff and Allison … and then weeks later Jeff comes forward and discloses this and resigns, not willingly…”
Tapper noted that it could appear that Cuomo threatened Zucker and came out on top, so Cuomo “blew the place up.”
“How do we get past this perception that this is the bad guy winning?” Tapper asked.
Kilar said that CNN’s reporting and on-air content will “define” the brand going forward more than the Zucker departure, but added, “I know that answer doesn’t sit well with probably a lot of people in this room but I believe it to be the case.”
Certainly, Zucker’s departure — and Gollust’s continued employment at the network — raised questions Wednesday, especially as WarnerMedia and Discovery move forward in their merger plan.
“This is Chris Cuomo’s revenge, and it worked,” one media veteran told TheWrap Wednesday. “It was done deliberately.”