Rolling Stone: How ousted CNN execs acted like Gov. Cuomo's publicist

Rolling Stone: How ousted CNN execs acted like Gov. Cuomo's publicist
AP Photo/Ron Harris

Some of this has been relayed before but Rolling Stone spelled out in much more detail how one particular CNN interview with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2020 was helped along by his former publicist Allison Gollust.


On the rainy morning of March 28, 2020, President Trump addressed a phalanx of journalists outside the White House following a call with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “There’s a possibility that sometime today, we’ll do a quarantine — short-term, two weeks — of New York, probably New Jersey, and certain parts of Connecticut,” he said while clutching his umbrella. “This would be an enforceable quarantine. You know, I’d rather not do it, but we may need it.”

Hours later, Cuomo was asked during his daily press conference about Trump’s comments. “From a medical point of view, I don’t know what you’d be accomplishing,” he offered with a shrug.

But as sunset approached, the governor appeared on CNN with a much more forceful assessment, predicting that a quarantine would unleash “chaos and mayhem” in the tristate area, and homing in on the financial implications of such a move. “I think it would paralyze the economy,” he said. “I think it would shock the economic markets in a way we’ve never seen before.”

How Cuomo got a 2nd bite at this apple is a story that involved Allison Gollust working behind the scenes to coordinate Cuomo’s appearance with a possible assist from Jeff Zucker. Zucker denies having spoken to Cuomo prior to the appearance but we know from text messages that Cuomo asked to speak to him.

In the hours between Cuomo’s Albany press conference and his CNN dinner-hour appearance, he corresponded directly with CNN leadership. Firing off a text to the network’s top marketing and communications executive, Allison Gollust — who had also been his own publicist a few years prior — Cuomo wrote, in an apparent reference to CNN President Jeff Zucker, “Ask Jeff to call me plz.” Zucker’s representatives say he has “no record” of speaking to Cuomo that day. Regardless, Cuomo landed on a talking point sure to grab Trump’s attention. And Zucker certainly knew exactly which levers to pull when it came to the president, given their long and lucrative relationship via the reality show The Apprentice.

About 30 minutes before Cuomo appeared on CNN by remote feed, Gollust emailed a programing staffer, cc’ing Zucker, and offered the governor as a last-minute guest to talk about Trump’s proposed quarantine. She then told Zucker that the governor would like to speak with him. When the segment ended, Gollust texted Cuomo: “Well done . . . Cuomo-W. Trump-L.”…

When a rumor circulated that Trump was about to shut down New York City, Gollust invited the governor to come on CNN’s New Day the next morning and “squash it.” She quipped to her former boss, “I’m pretty sure I stopped being your publicist 8 years ago, but apparently I still am.”


The NY Times reported last month that Gollust passed along the specific topics Cuomo wanted to be asked about. That Times report was apparently about the same CNN interview described above:

On a Saturday in March 2020, as Covid-19 was invading the United States, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo went on CNN for a live interview. Among other topics, he was asked about a possible government-enforced quarantine of New York that had been floated by President Donald J. Trump…

Before the interview, Governor Cuomo had told a senior CNN executive, Allison Gollust, about subjects that he’d like to be asked about on air, according to several people familiar with the matter. Ms. Gollust, CNN’s longtime chief of communications and marketing and a former top aide of the governor, passed along the topics to CNN producers and then reported back to the governor.

“Done,” she wrote…

The Cravath lawyers reviewed broadcast transcripts that showed that the anchor asked about the subjects that Ms. Gollust had put forward, the people said.

So what’s happening here is Cuomo is getting a big boost to his growing reputation as the hero of the pandemic through some connections at CNN. They are passing on Cuomo’s preferred topics and patting him on the back for notching a media win over President Trump. And maybe it’s even worse than that because maybe Zucker and Cuomo did talk and strategize Cuomo’s talking points prior to the appearance.


A spokesperson for Gollust and Zucker denied “laundering advice” to Gov. Cuomo but Rolling Stone, which had 36 sources for the story, reports observers inside and outside the network think this smells to high heaven.

To observers both outside and inside CNN, the network brass’s interactions with the governor represented the worst kind of journalistic lapse — “one of the most clear-cut ethical breaches you could think of,” says University of Missouri journalism professor Ryan Thomas. News outlets are supposed to expose the wrongdoings of politicians, not serve as their publicists…

“It was clear that she leveraged the relationship [with Andrew Cuomo],” says the Democratic operative. “There was a consistent exchange of favors between them.”

There’s a lot more to the Rolling Stone story including Zucker’s relationship with Matt Lauer and with Trump himself. But the portion about his and Gollust’s interactions with Cuomo are clearly indefensible. It makes me wonder what more Chris Cuomo might have had to say about it if Zucker and Gollust hadn’t been fired.

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