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Allison Gollust Resigns From CNN Following WarnerMedia Probe of Cuomo, Zucker

zucker gollust cnn
Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/MediaPunch/IPx | CNN

Allison Gollust, the chief marketing officer at CNN, has resigned from the network following corporate parent WarnerMedia’s investigation into “issues associated with Chris Cuomo and former Governor Andrew Cuomo,” according to a memo from Jason Kilar, the company’s CEO.

“Performed by a third-party law firm and led by a former federal judge, the investigation was comprehensive and definitive.  It was commissioned in September and concluded this weekend, which now allows me to share additional information with you,” Kilar said. “Based on interviews of more than 40 individuals and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails, the investigation found violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo.”     He added: “I realize this news is troubling, disappointing, and frankly, painful to read.  These are valid feelings many of you have.”

In a statement, Gollust alleged WarnerMedia was trying to undermine her in public. “WarnerMedia’s statement tonight is an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.  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,” she said Tuesday evening. “But I do so with my head held high, knowing that I gave my heart and soul to working with the finest journalists in the world.”

Revelation of the details of the investigation comes just days after Zucker, formerly CNN’s president, resigned abruptly, citing an undisclosed relationship with Gollust, a longtime lieutenant who also worked with him at NBCUniversal.  And it adds a new element to life inside CNN, where many top anchors and correspondents have come to Zucker’s defense, citing his support for them during a roiling nine-year tenure that cast the network in a more aggressive light.

Gollust has been an integral part of that era. She was heavily involved in the promotion of the network, which veered away at times from its centrist leanings, underscored by actor James Earl Jones intoning “This is CNN” in well-worn promos. Under Gollust, CNN adopted the mantra “Go there,” and it did indeed, The network, while not outwardly tilting partisan, lost favor in some Republican circles as it burnished its journalistic bona fides and relied on new promos that pledged to follow “Facts first” as a White House controlled by President Donald Trump often confused the national narrative with gaffes and outright misdirection. Gollust was so entwined with top CNN operations that, in some circles, she was thought to be a potential successor to Zucker.

The WarnerMedia investigation has derailed all that. When Zucker stepped down, he cited an investigation into fired anchor Chris Cuomo that revealed the CNN chief had not disclosed a consensual relationship with a colleague. And in doing so, he also revealed that Cuomo, a popular anchor who once commanded the 9 p.m. slot, was under scrutiny after being fired by Zucker last year. According to people familiar with the matter, Cuomo has been trying to get a severance payment, and has hired Bryan Freedman, a California entertainment attorney who previously represented Megyn Kelly in her exit discussions with NBCUniversal. There have been allegations raised in that process that Zucker and Gollust offered advice to former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, brother of the anchor, in discussions about having him appear on CNN.

Indeed, had CNN never allowed Chris Cuomo and Andrew Cuomo to come together on the former’s program at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, much of the current debacle might never have happened. Under Zucker, CNN waived rules preventing a journalist from covering family members and featured the former governor on his brother’s program on several nights. Later, when Andrew Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women — claims he denied but that led him to vacate his gubernatorial seat — the ethical lapse became hard to defend. And it became even more difficult to do so after the Washington Post reported that the younger Cuomo had been lending help to his brother’s staff as he sought to push back on those claims.

The findings in the probe create new drama at an operation in the midst of several critical business initiatives CNN is said to be weeks away from the launch of a new subscription-based streaming service, CNN Plus, and has recruited top journalists and personalities in the process. Audie Cornish. Chris Wallace, Kasie Hunt, Eva Longoria, Jemele Hill and Cari Champion are among new anchors and hosts who have come on board in recent weeks, while CNN anchors and correspondents like Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Wolf Blitzer have been given new assignments for the broadband outlet.

WarnerMedia is slated to be spun off by its current owner, AT&T, and to be acquired by Discovery, a media company that specializes in non-fiction programming where executives may seek to take CNN on a different path than its former chief. One thing is clear: With Zucker out and Gollust departing, CNN is starting a new chapter in a story that has been ongoing since 1980, when its entrepreneur founder, Ted Turner, could only dream of how many people might be sparring over his creation.