CNN Anchors Grill WarnerMedia CEO on Jeff Zucker, But No New Information is Served

CNN Under microscope Illustration
Morgan Ramberg for Variety

As CNN’s many journalists tried to delve into the ouster of Jeff Zucker,  but ran up against one of their biggest professional hurdles: a source who refuses to talk.

Some of WarnerMedia’s best-known on-air personalities pressed the company’s CEO Jason Kilar again and again on Monday, asking him to divulge more details around why Zucker resigned after acknowledging a personal relationship with Allison Gollust, CNN’s chief marketing officer. But Kilar would not.

The WarnerMedia chief faced questions from Don Lemon, Alisyn Camerota, Brian Stelter, Jim Sciutto, Bill Weir, Richard Quest, John Avlon and Victor Blackwell, as well as longtime producer Jim Murphy, many of them pressing him for more information about whether the parent company felt Zucker was given a harsher punishment than was necessary; about whether WarnerMedia was negotiating with Chris Cuomo, fired by Zucker last year, over severance; and whether the looming merger of WarnerMedia with Discovery forced his hand when it came to deciding what to do about the now former CNN chief.

“It did not factor into the decision,” Kilar said of AT&T’s expected move to spin off WarnerMedia so it could merge with Discovery, according to a recording of the session reviewed by Variety.

But Kilar didn’t have much else to say. “I accepted Jeff’s resignation and that matter is closed,” he said in response to questions from Blackwell. “I realize that’s not what you wanted to hear, but that is my answer.”

CNN staffers have been in what one observer called “the five stages of grief” since Zucker announced he was resigning from CNN after a colorful nine-year stint. In Washington, anchor Jake Tapper held a gathering of some Washington bureau personnel Friday evening to give people a chance to air their feelings, according to two people familiar with the matter. Some of those feelings came out Monday as a group of anchors and producers talked to Kilar via virtual connections, asking repeatedly for more information they said would help them move on and move forward.

“We don’t understand, in this room, why the death penalty was necessary,” said Camerota.

Kilar didn’t explain why it was.

Others implored him in more emotional terms. “When are we going to move on? Where are the internal memos? Where is the all-hands meeting?” asked Brian Stelter, the anchor of the media-news program “Reliable Sources.” “Where is the global town hall?”

The WarnerMedia CEO didn’t overpromise or underdeliver. In opening remarks, Kilar told the assembled staffers that he was going to say little about the circumstances of Zucker’s departure, noting that he considered the matter “closed.”

Attempting to spur CNN staffers to start moving forward, Kilar noted, as employees did, that there are big projects in the works, including the debut of the subscription video-streaming hub CNN Plus and the Discovery deal.

“There is no one, myself included, that anticipated or would want to be in this situation for CNN, for the company, for the team,” said Kilar. “I hope everyone knows that, and I’m saying it as loudly and as clearly as I can, but here we are.”

There was one question Kilar said he would answer, but not right away. When asked about how much longer he might be at WarnerMedia given the coming Discovery transaction, Kilar vowed to provide new information soon. “You will absolutely hear from me to answer that question,” he said. “That will be coming in the not too distant future.” Executives expect the transaction to be completed in the second quarter of the year.