February 3, 2022

Jeff Zucker was expected to step down as president of CNN sooner rather than later. But no one thought he would step away Wednesday — and for the reason he did.

In a bombshell announcement, Zucker abruptly resigned after revealing that he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with another senior CNN executive.

He told staff in a memo, “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. I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong. As a result, I am resigning today.”

Zucker didn’t name the colleague, but that colleague was Allison Gollust, an executive vice president and the chief marketing officer for CNN. Gollust put out her own memo that said, “Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years. Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time. I’m incredibly proud of my time at CNN and look forward to continuing the great work we do everyday.”

Gollust is staying at CNN.

According to The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin, both Zucker and Gollust are divorced.

So this is where this all gets a little messy and the timing seems odd.

First, there are some who might ask that if Zucker and Gollust are both single, and adults, and everything is consensual, what’s wrong with them being in a relationship? Especially when you consider that, apparently, their relationship was an open secret. Several gossip sites have even written about it before now, and veteran journalist Katie Couric hinted at it in her recent memoir “Going There.”

But let’s be clear. Any relationship between a boss and an employee is fraught with trouble — allegations of favoritism, potential lawsuits, etc. It just makes for a sketchy and uncomfortable work environment for everyone.

There’s more to untangle.

Prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo was close with Zucker … who was in a relationship with Gollust … who briefly (for four months in 2012-13) worked for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo … who is the brother of Chris Cuomo … who was fired after overstepping his role as a journalist in helping his brother fight multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

What a messy circle that could get messier. Chris Cuomo is suing CNN over his firing.

Grynbaum and Koblin wrote, “The events that led to Mr. Zucker’s exit started early last week, when both Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were asked about their relationship by lawyers from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a law firm that had been retained by WarnerMedia to investigate Mr. Cuomo’s tenure at the network, according to two people briefed on internal deliberations.”

Puck News’ Matthew Belloni tweeted, “Potentially important: I’m told CNN received a litigation hold letter recently from Chris Cuomo lawyers, demanding, among other things, preservation of all communications between Zucker, comms chief Allison Gollust, and Andrew Cuomo.”

Oh my.

Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo wrote, “Reading between the lines, everyone’s interpretation of this is that Chris Cuomo knifed Zucker.”

Pompeo also wrote that Jason Kilar — chief executive of WarnerMedia, which owns CNN — made it clear to Zucker in the past few days that Zucker couldn’t stay.

While there have been rumors that Zucker was going to step away from CNN sometime during 2022, his sudden resignation comes at a critical time. WarnerMedia is merging with Discovery. In addition, CNN is about to launch its streaming service, CNN+, in the next couple of months. That’s not the optimum time to have a major leadership shakeup.

Kilar said in a memo to staff that three senior executives — Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz — will be in charge on an interim basis, at least until the merger is concluded.

Kilar wrote, “I have full confidence that Michael, Amy and Ken, as interim heads for News, will provide the leadership this organization needs during this time of transition.”

While Zucker’s time at CNN comes to an unceremonious end, his impact has been significant. Zucker, 56, has been at CNN since 2013 and is considered one of the most powerful people in media. Before CNN, Zucker worked at NBC since the 1980s and was the chief executive of NBCUniversal from 2007 to 2010. (Gollust also worked with Zucker at NBC.)

Overall, Zucker was well-liked and respected by most of those at CNN, and there’s no denying his and CNN’s power and influence in news media.

CNN prime-time anchor Don Lemon told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “I am devastated. I just think so highly of Jeff, and he is the best boss we have ever had, and one of the best things that has ever happened to CNN. There are probably going to be a lot of nervous people at CNN because Jeff is really the glue there. He made us relevant again.”

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota told The Daily Beast, “We are all devastated. Jeff is beloved here. We all know we’ll never find a smarter or more compassionate boss.”

Camerota went on the air and continued to praise Zucker and even said, “These are two consenting adults who are both executives. That they can’t have a private relationship feels wrong on some level.”

But, as I pointed out, there is something wrong with the boss of a company having a relationship with someone at the same company and not, officially, revealing that relationship. And it could be there is much more to it than his relationship with Gollust.

In his memo to staff, Zucker said, “Together, we had nine great years. I certainly wish my tenure here had ended differently. But it was an amazing run. And I loved every minute.”

But you get the feeling that this isn’t the end of this saga, and there will be more — much more — to cover in the coming days and weeks.

The NFL’s reckoning on race

Football coach Brian Flores on the set of “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday. (Courtesy: CBS News)

We’ve known for some time that the National Football League has a problem with how it treats people of color. It had to put in place a rule — the Rooney Rule — that requires teams to interview minority candidates whenever they have a head coaching opening. And yet the rule has failed because, despite its intentions, it has lacked good faith. As of this moment, there is only one Black head coach (Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin) among the 32 NFL teams.

This week, Brian Flores, who is Black and was just fired as coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams, alleging that they have discriminated against him and other Black coaches in their hiring practices.

Flores and his lawyers did several televised interviews on Wednesday, most notably on “CBS Mornings” and ESPN’s “Get Up!” On CBS, Flores relayed how he felt when he interviewed for the head coaching position with the New York Giants after learning through an accidental text from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick that suggested the Giants had already decided to hire white coach Brian Daboll.

“It was a range of emotions. Humiliation, disbelief, anger,” Flores told “CBS Mornings.” “I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am in football, to become a head coach. Put 18 years in this league, and it was — to go on what was going to be a — what felt like or what was a sham interview, I was hurt.”

Flores’ suit includes other serious charges. One is that when he interviewed with the Denver Broncos in 2019, then-general manager John Elway and team president Joe Ellis showed up an hour late and, Flores alleged, Elway appeared hungover. That was, Flores said, another example of a “sham” interview. Flores also alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 for each loss so that Miami could end up with a better draft pick.

All the allegations were denied by the individual teams, but the NFL’s statement was laughable. It concluded its statement by saying Flores’ suit was “without merit.”

So, let me get this right. Flores filed a 58-page complaint that included multiple allegations against multiple teams and the NFL needed just an afternoon to declare that the suit was “without merit?” This is the same league that took months to investigate if the New England Patriots deflated footballs. And yet it dismissed allegations that there’s systemic racism in the NFL in a couple of hours? A better response would have been: “Brian Flores has made some very serious allegations that we find concerning and we are committed to investigating these allegations.” (The NFL announced Wednesday night that it will look into the Ross-tanking allegations.)

Flores, who is still in contention for at least two NFL openings, admits that suing the league could put his coaching career in jeopardy. He told “CBS Mornings,” “I absolutely want to coach in this league. But I also know that this isn’t — I’m not the only story here. I’m not the only one with a story to tell. … I know there are others who have similar stories. It’s hard to speak out, it is. You’re giving up, you’re making sacrifices. But this is, again, this is bigger than football, bigger than coaching.”

In a column I encourage you to read, The Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer wrote, “He probably won’t win against the NFL and its legal machine. But now he can’t lose, either. He gets to be Brian Flores, in full, no matter what. Flores is dangerous to the league because he no longer operates from a place of need. He isn’t working humbly within the system to realize a dream of job stability. He’s gripping a sledgehammer.”

During an appearance on ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” Joon Lee had a strong point: “There’s a straight throughline from Colin Kaepernick to Brian Flores because this is the culture with how the NFL views Black people, how they view Black quarterbacks, how they view Black head coaches and how they view minorities in a position of power.”

Flores might not be able to prove his case, but he’s a real threat to the NFL. He is forcing all of us to see and focus on a problem that we’ve already known exists. And the media will pay attention to … hopefully.

As Brewer wrote, “His audacity could turn into a seminal moment, a shift in the movement for equality. For NFL teams and their owners, silence can’t be guaranteed any longer. Flores isn’t built to back down, and other coaches just might join him in his mission to see ‘positive change.’ The potential influence of his resistance matters as much as the strength of his lawsuit.”

What’s your name?

Washington Commanders jerseys are displayed at an event to unveil the NFL football team’s new identity on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Another big football story on Wednesday. The professional football team in Washington has a new nickname. It’s the Commanders. I personally liked it when they were called the Washington Football Team, but Commanders is, certainly, way better than the racist nickname Washington used for nearly 90 years before dropping it in July 2020.

The new name was officially announced on NBC’s “Today” show, but had leaked out before then.

The Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala wrote, “Team officials whittled a group of 40,000 fan submissions and ‘thousands’ of others sent in by snail mail, according to president Jason Wright, to 1,200 potential names. From there, Wright and his team, composed of a small group of executives from the team’s marketing, legal and fan experience departments, worked with the digital creative company Code & Theory as well as designers from Nike and the NFL, to narrow the list to three finalists, each of which was put through an extensive vetting process before the final decision was made.”

President Joe Biden tweeted out a photo of his dog, also named Commander, and wrote, “I suppose there’s room for two Commanders in this town.”

But popular podcaster and former NFL punter Pat McAfee thought what many people were thinking when he tweeted, “Rebranding is always gonna be tough and I think ‘The Washington Commanders’ is a good name .. Now of course.. They’re gonna be called The Commies.. they’re red.. in the Nation’s capital but nonetheless.. Commanders is a good name.”

Panels of controversy

I have another thought in the wake of Whoopi Goldberg’s suspension from ABC’s “The View.” Goldberg said that the Holocaust was not about race. (Check out my Wednesday newsletter for all the details.) Goldberg apologized, and then was suspended for two weeks.

Now let me be clear: This isn’t a defense of Goldberg or her comments. But are we surprised that these panel shows produce so much controversy?

Shows such as “The View” and “The Talk” and the ESPN sports debate shows and, really, any panel show are meant to be entertaining and informative in their edginess and willingness to tackle controversial topics. These shows can’t just be about cooking recipes, the weather or who the starting quarterback should be.

When the topics do turn serious, panelists and guests are encouraged to be provocative. Otherwise, what is the point if everyone is just going to figuratively hold hands and sing songs of peace and love?

And if you’re going to be provocative, you’re eventually going to say something dumb, insulting, insensitive or just flat-out wrong.

Again, this isn’t to defend Goldberg or anyone who says something dumb. It’s everyone’s responsibility to navigate controversial topics without stepping in manure.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when the very shows that promote edginess find that one of their personalities has fallen over the edge.

Speaking of the Goldberg situation, here’s a guest column in The Washington Post from former “The View” segment producer Daniella Greenbaum: “Whoopi Goldberg isn’t the only one who doesn’t understand antisemitism.”

Correction, but I’m dragging someone down with me

No correction in this newsletter is acceptable, but it’s even more infuriating when there’s a mistake about sports. After all, I was a sportswriter for 30-some years!

But I goofed in Wednesday’s newsletter. I said Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Bucs lost in overtime to the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs. Actually, the Rams won in regulation.

In my defense, the game should have gone to overtime, but the Bucs defense inexplicably let the Rams complete a long pass to set up the game-winning field goal on the last play of the fourth quarter. So, yes, it was my mistake, but I’m half-blaming the Bucs and their defense, too.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: ABC News)

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

More News

Back to News