Her exit from the network is only the latest upheaval that has left staffers feeling anxious and uncertain over the network’s future, particularly with the pending combination of CNN’s parent WarnerMedia with Discovery, a deal expected to close next month.
Warner Media CEO Jason Kilar wrote in an email to staffers, “Earlier today, Allison Gollust resigned from CNN following the conclusion of the Company’s investigation into issues associated with Chris Cuomo and former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“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 the company to share additional information.”
He added, “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.”
But Gollust blasted the circumstances of her exit. She said that what has transpired was “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 last nine years defending and upholding CNN’s highest standards of journalistic integrity, I would be treated this way as I leave. 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.”
Kilar’s latest statement came as the New York Times published an account of the downfall of Cuomo, Zucker and now Gollust at the network. The Times story included more details of an allegation against Cuomo, including a woman’s claim that he sexually assaulted her in 2011, when he was an anchor at ABC News and she worked as a temporary employee.
Kilar, in his note to staffers today, wrote of the announcement about Gollust, “I realize this news is troubling, disappointing, and frankly, painful to read. These are valid feelings many of you have.”
“We have the highest standards of journalistic integrity at CNN, and those rules apply to everyone equally,” Kilar stated. “Given the information provided to me in the investigation, I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.”
Both publicly and privately, a number of CNNers have been lamenting the demise of Zucker, who resigned as the president of CNN Worldwide the morning of February 2. In his goodbye to staff, the former Today producer put the cause of his exit after nearly a decade at CNN on a failure to disclose what he characterized as a “consensual relationship” with a colleague.
“As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years,” Zucker wrote earlier this month. “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when I began but I didn’t. I was wrong.”
Despite wanting to hold on to his gig a bit longer, Zucker was told in no uncertain terms by Kilar in a telephone call a few days before his resignation that “you can’t remain here,” a conversation we reported on.
The relationship was with Gollust, who had been viewed by some staffers as a potential successor to Zucker after the Discovery-WarnerMedia deal closed. After Zucker’s departure, a number of employees argued that Gollust had been unfairly tarnished by what happened, with her future at the company uncertain.
Another factor looming over all this, and one that the likes of Jake Tapper and other CNN anchors brought up to Kilar after Zucker’s ouster, is the threat of legal action from the younger Cuomo. Finally fired in December last year for his closer than previously disclosed association with older brother and ousted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the ex-CNN host is seeking at least an $18 million payout.
Cuomo has hired Hollywood heavyweight lawyer Bryan Freedman to represent him. Having successfully represented Megyn Kelly and Gabrielle Union-Wade in their respective battles with NBC, the Freedman & Taitelman LLP attorney sent a letter to CNN and WarnerMedia on December 6 asking for “preservation of relevant evidence.” In the one potential warning shot across the bow in an otherwise standard note, Freedman made a point of requesting “documents including correspondence related to any appearances by Andrew Cuomo on CNN.”
When Cuomo was fired in December, the network said that new allegations surfaced just as an outside law firm was conducting an investigation of his conduct with his brother’s defense. The Times reported then that Debra Katz, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, had informed the network of an allegation of sexual misconduct from a woman identified as a junior colleague at another network.
The Times obtained further details of a letter Katz sent to CNN, outlining the woman’s allegations. Identified as Jane Doe, the woman claimed that when he was at ABC News, Cuomo invited her to his office for lunch. Then, when she arrived, he sought to have sex with her. When she refused, he allegedly assaulted her.
Katz’s letter went on to claim that several years later, as #MeToo allegations were surfacing against a host of media figures, Cuomo, then at CNN, reached out to her, proposing to do a segment about the company she worked for in public relations. According to Katz, the woman saw the offer as a way to discourage her from coming forward. The woman did not want any contact with Cuomo but the segment ran anyway, according to the Times.
A spokesperson for Cuomo said in a statement, “As Mr. Cuomo has stated previously, the allegations in the anonymous letter are false. He was never asked about the allegations prior to being terminated nor given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.”
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