CNN boss Jeff Zucker addressed his staff Tuesday, announcing in a town hall that the company will take diversity into account when finding an anchor to replace former 9 p.m. ET anchor Chris Cuomo. He is “comfortable” with how Cuomo’s firing played out over the weekend, too, he said.
Responding to a question about whether CNN will hire a “diverse anchor” to replace the “Cuomo Prime Time” host, Zucker said they were going to look “at all possibilities. Obviously, as we’ve said before, diversity is always a factor that we will take into account.”
He also said that Cuomo’s behavior conflicted with CNN’s standards and practices in a way that was “too far and deserved termination.”
News broke earlier this year that Cuomo had participated in strategy talks when his brother, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was facing an onslaught of sexual harassment accusations. CNN did not suspend him, but issued a statement: “Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo — on air or behind the scenes. In part because, as he has said on his show, he could never be objective. But also because he often serves as a sounding board for his brother. However, it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.”
Last week, the New York Attorney General’s office released documents showing the extent of Cuomo’s involvement in the strategizing. He asked the politician’s team to be directly involved, asked other industry insiders about any other stories coming out and even used his connections to dig up information on accusers. CNN suspended him last week before firing him over the weekend.
In Tuesday’s town hall, Zucker said, “I don’t think that there was no discipline back then. It was a reprimand, it was a public rebuke and it was a final warning that it could not happen again but I think that is a lesson we have all learned from.”
Zucker was asked whether he has “regret” for not suspending Cuomo sooner and said, “Hindsight in all of this is very easy and I do feel, as I’ve said before, and I said again this morning, this was a very unique situation and so we did allow for some leeway for Chris that, you know, was unique to that situation for somebody in that role with a brother in that role during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. So, I do think that we tried to make the right decisions at the right times.”
Zucker said he was “comfortable with the decisions that [CNN] made” regarding the firing.
Cuomo, he said, should have taken a leave of absence when the harassment accusations began against the former governor, he conceded, adding that executives did ask the anchor to do so. He declined.
The production team that worked on “Cuomo Prime Time” will continue to produce the 9 p.m. hour, he said. Their jobs are not impacted by Cuomo’s departure.
After that, Zucker went on to address other concerns, promising his staff that the videos that automatically play on the digital site are being phased out.