It’s a good question, one that will continue to get asked as long as CNN fails to acknowledge the depth of the scandal that exploded this week. AT&T/Warner Media pushed Jeff Zucker out after an admission of his sexual affair with his longtime subordinate Allison Gollust, now an executive VP. Why didn’t Gollust get canned too for breaking the same rules?
That point hasn’t been limited to just CNN’s traditional critics. The View’s Sunny Hostin argued yesterday that women and men should be held to the same standard. If Zucker had to go over “an incredible lack of judgment,” then why is Gollust allowed to stay?
Gollust was identified as the woman with whom Zucker had a “consensual relationship” that he did not disclose to CNN owner AT&T in apparent violation of company policies, which he cited as the reason for his resignation. But as the news broke, it was confirmed that Gollust herself would be staying on with the network. Discussing the situation on “The View,” Hostin noted that she doesn’t agree with that move.
“As women, don’t we want other women to be held to the same standards that we hold men?” Hostin argued. “Everyone said ‘Yes, Jeff Zucker has to go!’ Why does Allison get to keep her job, when she also had an incredible indiscretion, and an incredible lack of judgement?”
Hostin pointed out that there are certainly a lot of questions surrounding the timeline of Zucker and Gollust’s relationship, which the pair claims “changed during COVID.” Many media insiders have questioned whether the romance really only began in the last two years, or while both Zucker and Gollust were married to other people.
It’s become clear that both Zucker and Gollust lied about the starting point of their sexual relationship, and it’s just as clear why. Katie Couric made that point yesterday again, saying their relationship gave off weird vibes when the two worked together at NBC on Today:
“I worked with Jeff Zucker for many years at NBC and later on my talk show. He was a talented and energetic producer. His resignation took me by surprise,” Couric wrote in her newsletter. “I’ve also known Allison Gollust since my days at the ‘Today’ show. I’ve wondered about the nature of their relationship, but I do know, as I wrote in my memoir ‘Going There’, that it made me uncomfortable. It seems their colleagues and the media at large turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior.”
One reason AT&T/Warner might have been reluctant to can Gollust could have been the CNN staff reaction to Zucker’s ouster. The trades are filled with reports of angry dialogue with Warner Media chief Jason Kilar. However, the Los Angeles Times dropped this little nugget into their version of the story yesterday too, emphasis mine:
During the 90-minute meeting, Kilar was repeatedly pummeled with questions by the network’s Washington journalists who felt a deep affinity for Zucker, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Times. Three of Zucker’s deputies — Amy Entelis, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz — are running CNN on an interim basis. …
While Gollust remains employed by CNN, several people familiar with her status who were not authorized to discuss it publicly said she will not stay with the company once Discovery’s merger with WarnerMedia is completed in a few months.
So why keep her around at all? It’s likely an attempt by AT&T/Warner to do damage control on CNN’s behalf. In these kind of affairs, using that word in all its contexts, the subordinate usually doesn’t bear the brunt of the punishment. The presumption in many cases, certainly more often post-Lewinsky (and for good reason), is that the junior member of the affair has been a manipulated victim her/himself.
By keeping Gollust in place now and quietly cutting her loose later, AT&T/Warner gets to pretend this scandal is just about an interoffice affair. That beats the kind of focus that other media outlets such as Rolling Stone are shining on the real corruption at Zucker’s CNN:
The exposed affair isn’t the only red flag the investigation has raised on Zucker and Gollust. The probe, which is nearly complete, is being overseen by Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s Katherine Forrest, a former U.S. district judge who has conducted multiple investigations for WarnerMedia in the past. (She was brought in to look into Justice League star Ray Fisher’s claims of racism but “found no credible support” for the actor’s claims.) And a source familiar with Forrest’s work on the matter says that it’s not just Chris Cuomo’s alleged role in helping his brother Andrew navigate a sexual harassment scandal that has come under her scrutiny.
The source says the investigation suggests Zucker and Gollust were advising the governor at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in ways not dissimilar to what led to Chris Cuomo’s dismissal. As Andrew sparred on a daily basis with then-President Trump over Covid messaging, the couple provided the governor with talking points on how to respond to the president’s criticisms of the New York crisis. They also booked the governor to appear on the network exclusively, which became a ratings boon for CNN, with Chris Cuomo doing the interviewing. Cuomo and Gollust’s conduct, too, would appear to mark an ethical breach for executives acting on behalf of an impartial news outlet.
“The autonomy of a news organization requires it to not be engaged in any sort of direct activity with any political actor,” says Tim Gleason, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon and media ethics expert, speaking broadly. “If they’re advising a politician [while] presumably reporting on activity that that politician is engaged in, that’s duplicitous and deceptive and a disservice to the audience of a news organization.”
That’s the corruption that matters most, and firing Gollust over it at the same time as Zucker would only draw more attention to it. By keeping her on, it allows for the perception that Zucker’s offenses were entirely related to zipper problems.
That does leaves one problem for AT&T/Warner — the CS&M/Forrest report. It’s due in a few weeks, and the outside investigation has apparently already started drilling down into the Cuomo-propaganda production under Zucker and Gollust. Perhaps at that point Gollust will get canned, or maybe AT&T/Warner will leave it for Discovery to handle. Either way, though, they’re only postponing the inevitable. And covering up the obvious, to boot.