CNN Parent Found Allison Gollust’s Remarks on Jeff Zucker Relationship Were Misleading

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Jeff Zucker, left, and Allison Gollust with Tom Brokaw in 2016.
Photo: Jared Siskin/PMC

Allison Gollust resigned as CNN’s communications and marketing chief after the network’s parent determined she misled investigators about her relationship with former President Jeff Zucker and violated CNN’s news standards, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ms. Gollust’s resignation came amid an investigation that originally focused on former prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo’s efforts to help his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, respond to accusations of sexual misconduct. The investigation eventually ensnared…

Allison Gollust resigned as CNN’s communications and marketing chief after the network’s parent determined she misled investigators about her relationship with former President

Jeff Zucker
and violated CNN’s news standards, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ms. Gollust’s resignation came amid an investigation that originally focused on former prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo’s efforts to help his brother, former New York Gov.

Andrew Cuomo,
respond to accusations of sexual misconduct. The investigation eventually ensnared three of CNN’s biggest players: network president Mr. Zucker, Chris Cuomo and Ms. Gollust.

Shortly after Mr. Zucker announced his resignation on Feb. 2, citing his failure to disclose a consensual office romance, Ms. Gollust released a statement that her relationship with Mr. Zucker “changed during Covid.”

Ms. Gollust’s decision to put a timeline on the evolution of the relationship in her Feb. 2 statement rankled some employees at WarnerMedia and CNN, who believed it had turned romantic before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to some of the people familiar with the matter. Soon after Ms. Gollust issued her statement, CNN included it in its reporting. That bothered some of those WarnerMedia and CNN employees, who said Ms. Gollust’s statement misled CNN’s audience, the people said.

In the days after Mr. Zucker’s exit, amid the widening scrutiny over the timing of Ms. Gollust’s relationship with Mr. Zucker, WarnerMedia and CNN determined that her statement was misleading, the people said.

During the investigation, WarnerMedia found communications between Ms. Gollust and Andrew Cuomo, then New York governor, related to one of his appearances on the network during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including topics that Mr. Cuomo would like to be asked about during an interview on CNN, which Ms. Gollust relayed to CNN producers, according to some of the people familiar with the matter. The New York Times earlier reported on the communications between Andrew Cuomo and Ms. Gollust.

WarnerMedia determined that some of the communications between Ms. Gollust and Andrew Cuomo were inappropriate and were one of multiple factors that led to the company’s decision to ask Ms. Gollust to resign, some of the people said.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Gollust said the former CNN executive didn’t suggest that inclusion of the topics was a condition of the interview, or suggest that the exchange should be limited to those topics.

“It is extremely common for newsmakers and elected officials to tell producers what topics they’d like to cover during an interview,” the spokeswoman said. “WarnerMedia relying on this everyday practice as justification for dismissing Allison demonstrates how ignorant they are of journalistic practices, and further proves that her dismissal is nothing more than retaliation.”

In a memo to employees earlier this week, WarnerMedia Chief Executive

Jason Kilar
said the investigation found violations of CNN’s news standards and practices by Mr. Zucker, Ms. Gollust and Chris Cuomo. A spokesman for Chris Cuomo has said that the former CNN anchor was transparent with CNN executives about his relationship with his brother.

Andrew Cuomo resigned as New York governor in August, one week after a state report found he had sexually harassed multiple women. Chris Cuomo was fired by CNN in December as a result of the investigation into his efforts to help his brother, which included giving detailed feedback on Andrew Cuomo’s statements to the press and gathering information about upcoming stories involving his brother’s accusers.

Ms. Gollust and Mr. Zucker initially weren’t forthcoming about their relationship when asked by investigators but eventually acknowledged it while the probe was still ongoing, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

“Allison has been clear that her relationship with Jeff changed during Covid, and regrets that they didn’t properly disclose it to WarnerMedia at that time,” a spokesman for Ms. Gollust said. “Continuing to publicly debate the private details of her personal life reeks of sexism and only further underscores WarnerMedia’s retaliatory actions against her.”

After Mr. Zucker quit, Ms. Gollust was told by a superior that she was a key part of CNN’s executive team, according to a person familiar with the matter. In her view, Ms. Gollust was never presented with evidence that contradicted her timeline of the relationship, the person said.

WarnerMedia declined to comment on the matter.

Mr. Zucker signed an agreement that prevents him from commenting on his own exit from CNN beyond the statement he released, a person familiar with the matter told the Journal earlier this week. When he announced his resignation in an email to CNN staff on Feb. 2, Mr. Zucker wrote “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong.”

Mr. Kilar said in his memo investigators examined more than 100,000 texts and emails and interviewed more than 40 individuals as part of their probe. He called the revelations “troubling, disappointing, and frankly, painful to read.”

Ms. Gollust responded to Mr. Kilar’s memo shortly after it was released, calling it an “attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative.”

“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,” Ms. Gollust said at the time.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com and Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

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