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Surprise, Sympathy After Scott Sassa’s Hasty Hearst Exit

Report of sexting scandal leaves company without top entertainment exec

Showbizzers were shaking their heads and snickering Thursday morning as word of Scott Sassa’s hasty exit from Hearst Entertainment spread among his friends and associates.

The New York Post reported late Wednesday that Sassa had left his post as president of the Hearst Entertainment and Syndication division in light of a scandal involving a woman forwarding to his colleagues salacious text messages he allegedly sent her.

A rep for Hearst confirmed Thursday that Sassa has left the company. References to Sassa have already been scrubbed off of the company’s corporate website.

The scandal puts the spotlight on the privately held company where execs tend to keep a low-profile even with the company’s sizable media holdings in TV and publishing. Sassa oversaw its cable and entertainment holdings that include co-ownership of ESPN and A+E Television Networks in joint ventures with Disney. It recently struck a deal with NBCUniversal to rebrand one of the Peacock’s cablers as Esquire Network, tapping into the cachet of Hearst’s successful men’s magazine.

Since joining Hearst in 2010, Sassa had been steadily building up its production and distribution operations, notably through a joint venture with Mark Burnett’s One Three Media shingle. Hearst is the international distrib partner on Burnett’s “The Bible” miniseries which has drawn big numbers to History, part of the A+E group.

There had been recent speculation that Sassa’s role was poised to grow at Hearst as the company is believed to be paving the way for a CEO transition in the near future. Steven Swartz was promoted late last year to the prexy-COO post, a move seen as putting him in line to take the reins at some point from Frank Bennack, who has served as CEO since 1979.

Bennack, according to the Post report, was among those who received copies of the texts from an unnamed woman who was allegedly pressuring Sassa  to pay her to avoid having her reveal sexually explicit comments she claimed he made to her.

On Thursday, friends and colleagues who have known Sassa through his stints at NBC, Fox and Turner Broadcasting were quick to respond to reports of the sexting scandal. There was plenty of snark, but many expressed sympathy and surprise that the texting incident, if true, would lead to his dismissal.

“Sad. Such a talented guy,” said NBCUniversal’s Vivian Schiller on Twitter. “I feel bad for Scott. Nice guy,” Beck Media’s Steve Spignese said via Twitter.

“If sexting a stripper on one’s own time was normally a fireable offense half of wall street would be pounding the pavement,” blogger Elizabeth Spiers noted on Twitter.

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