"Chris blew the place up": CNN staffers blame Cuomo for Zucker's demise

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

There are two theories kicking around about who exposed Jeff Zucker’s relationship with his deputy, but they’re not in conflict. One: Furious at having been fired over an ethical problem, a vengeful Chris Cuomo decided to retaliate by exposing the ethical problem of the man who fired him. Two: Jason Kilar, the CEO of CNN’s parent company, had it in for Zucker and wanted him out before WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery was complete.

They’re not mutually exclusive. Cuomo could have plunged the knife on Zucker and Kilar could have opportunistically twisted it. Each guy gets what he wants.

But for what it’s worth, CNN employees seem laser-focused on Cuomo. Maybe that’s because they know him personally and resent how he embarrassed the network by moonlighting for his brother, or maybe it’s because they dare not publicly accuse their boss, Kilar, of having exposed Zucker. Either way, fingers are pointing at their former colleague. “Everyone here is heartbroken and shocked,” one staffer told Politico. “People are blaming this on Chris. Not a lot of love between CNN and Chris Cuomo for a while.” Kilar held a conference call with staff and Cuomo’s name reportedly came up there too:

Mr. Kilar, who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to address CNN staff, faced many questions from employees who felt Mr. Zucker didn’t get a second chance after disclosing his relationship with Ms. Gollust. Mr. Kilar declined to answer questions about the timeline of Mr. Zucker’s departure, though he said that he followed a process “with an appropriate sense of urgency.”…

During the question-and-answer session, anchor Jake Tapper said that Mr. Cuomo hired a lawyer who seemed eager to leak damaging information about Mr. Zucker unless they gave Mr. Cuomo severance.

“An outside observer might say, ‘Well, it looks like Chris Cuomo succeeded,’” Mr. Tapper said. “He threatened Jeff. Jeff said we don’t negotiate with terrorists. And Chris blew the place up. How do we get past that perception that this is the bad guy winning?”

Sources are also whispering to Vanity Fair that they see the hidden hand of Cuomo here:

I’ve heard similar things, including from someone with direct knowledge of Cuomo himself bringing up the relationship in conversation. Lawyers retained by CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia, have been conducting an investigation into the Cuomo matter for the past couple of months, since Coumo was fired, and I’m told they began asking about Zucker and Gollust in recent weeks. (A source close to Cuomo told me that his lawyers did not raise the relationship in an effort to gain any leverage in the discussions that followed Cuomo’s firing.) Sources also told me Cuomo’s team had been shopping the story around, which could explain how it ended up in a little-noticed gossip item published by Radar Online on January 4. (The source close to Cuomo denied that Cuomo’s team shopped the story.) Cuomo’s spokesman didn’t have a comment on any of this when I got him on the phone early Wednesday afternoon, but basically everyone I’ve talked to is saying the same thing: Zucker has effectively become the latest casualty of the Andrew Cuomo scandal. As one former TV news honcho put it, “It’s like the ending of Reservoir Dogs.” Another media executive texted me: “I knew it from the minute they fired Cuomo.”

Politico got more specific: “Two sources with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly said that Cuomo’s legal team, which continues to negotiate his exit from the network, raised issues about the relationship between Zucker and Gollust. Cuomo’s legal team asserted that Zucker was hypocritical to suggest Cuomo had a personal conflict of interest when the relationship with Gollust represented a potential conflict as well.”

Brian Stelter claimed yesterday that Cuomo had “incriminating information” about Zucker’s relationship with Allison Gollust. John speculated that that incriminating evidence might be proof that Zucker and Gollust were romantically involved even before she arrived at CNN, making this a case of the boss promoting his girlfriend over more qualified aspirants rather than an office romance developing organically between colleagues. But if Cuomo has that evidence, he must have gone digging for it long ago. Evidently the relationship between Zucker and Gollust has been going on for years and was common knowledge in the cable news industry, not just at CNN:

I flagged Katie Couric’s book in this post yesterday, in which she alleged that Zucker was pulling strings on Gollust’s behalf as far back as when he was at NBC. Presumably Kilar had also heard about the relationship, although without hard proof he may have felt his hands were tied. The Cuomo investigation ultimately provided him with that proof. “In the past week, Mr. Kilar learned that Mr. Zucker disclosed the relationship as part of the investigation and quickly decided Mr. Zucker should step down,” sources told the Wall Street Journal.

What kind of evidence could Cuomo have had, though? The most obvious possibility is emails, but what would have led Zucker or Gollust to confirm for him in writing that they were together, let alone that they’d been together for a long time?

Either way, Gollust’s days at the network must be numbered, especially now that her boyfriend isn’t around to protect her anymore. She’s as guilty as Zucker is of not disclosing their relationship to their corporate superiors, after all. And unless a *lot* of people are lying about their affair having been an open secret for years, Gollust herself brazenly lied in her statement yesterday when she claimed that the nature of her relationship with Zucker only changed “during COVID.” Cuomo may be the bad guy here but these two idiots made it easy for him.

I’ll leave you with this, one of the funnier things you’ll read today. They’re mourning a guy who led the network to third place in the ratings and who turned its 2016 coverage of the GOP primary into a months-long Trump advertisement.