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CNN Chief Jeff Zucker Says Chris Cuomo ‘Made a Mistake’ and Defends Treatment of Controversy

Jeff Zucker president of CNN Worldwide
Melissa Golden for Variety

Jeff Zucker, chairman of news and sports at WarnerMedia, held a company town hall on Tuesday in which he addressed the recent Chris Cuomo-CNN controversy and answered questions regarding return-to-office plans.

Zucker suggested CNN staffers who were vaccinated and wished to return to the outlet’s New York offices would likely be able to do so starting in June, according to a person familiar with the event. He also said the WarnerMedia-backed unit wouldn’t expect its full employee base to return until September. Work-from-home policies are likely to extend, Zucker said, but they will probably be devised between various managers and their charges.

The largest part of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of returning to work following the pandemic, according to this person, with Sanjay Gupta, the network’s medical correspondent on hand to answer staffers’ queries.

But Zucker also handled a few hot potatoes, too. He told employees that primetime anchor Chris Cuomo “made a mistake” by taking part in sessions with his brother, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and his advisers while the New York State leader was under scrutiny due to claims about sexual harassment as well as handling data about the pandemic’s effects on nursing homes. Zucker said he felt a disciplinary action was less effective than having the anchor address the situation on camera, in front of audiences. He reiterated that Cuomo has been separated from coverage of his sibling and will not be able to interview or report on the governor at any point in the future.

Another staffer asked about a timeline for CNN to get into the streaming business with its own standalone service. This staffer referred to the new business as a sort of “CNN Plus,” though the company has not designated a name for any potential outlet at this time. Zucker said discussions about a streaming counterpart for CNN were continuing. Executives have discussed a concept that would have CNN anchors and journalists lead shows centered around their passions or areas of expertise, but have not released any sort of overall concept to the public.

Zucker was queried about whether he intended to leave CNN at the end of the year, as he has indicated he would, or perhaps remain with a new combination of WarnerMedia and Discovery slated to take place in 2022. The executive said he had not changed any of his plans, but that he intended to hold talks in the near future to determine what options he might have.