February 21, 2022

Jeff Zucker stepped down as president of CNN on Feb. 2, but this story won’t die. It still feels like there’s more out there.

Zucker stepped down, officially, because he had failed to reveal a consensual relationship with one of his top lieutenants — Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Then last week, after initially saying she was going to stay, Gollust resigned.

Because of their respect for Zucker, many CNN staffers were angry and hurt, and didn’t think Zucker should have been forced to resign. Some said so in internal meetings and on air. The Gollust resignation leaves many confused.

But since Zucker’s resignation, more details are starting to drip out. A lot of those details go back to Chris Cuomo, the former CNN anchor who was fired for helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, battle multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

When WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced Gollust’s resignation in a memo to staff, he said it came after an investigation into “issues associated with” the Cuomo brothers. He added, “We have the highest standards of journalistic integrity at CNN, and those rules must apply to everyone equally. 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.”

Gollust said Kilar’s statement was an “attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.”

Then came Friday and two more reports about all the chaos.

The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin and Joe Flint reported that Gollust had misled investigators about her relationship with Zucker. Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum, John Koblin and Emily Steel reported that Gollust was in communication with Andrew Cuomo before his appearances on CNN when he was still governor. According to The Times, Cuomo emailed Gollust with topics he wanted to discuss on the air and Gollust passed those ideas onto CNN producers. She then wrote back to Cuomo, “Done.”

Gollust briefly worked for Cuomo between late 2012 and early 2013.

Now, to be clear, it’s not unethical or even unusual for politicians or other potential interviewees to pass along topics they would like to talk about on air. Often, news outlets reach out for interviews with topics they want to discuss.

It would be wrong for a news outlet to give interview subjects specific questions that they would be asked, or to agree to not bring up certain topics. But it doesn’t appear as if either of those things happened.

Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Gollust, told The Times that Gollust “in no way suggested that inclusion of these topics was a condition of the interview, nor did she suggest the interview should be limited to these subjects.”

Heller added that Gollust “acted as the principal booker for Governor Cuomo during the early days of the pandemic” and that her role was “well known by the entire network.”

So is the exchange of potential interview topics at the heart of Gollust’s forced resignation?

Puck’s Dylan Byers tweeted, “If this is AT&T/WarnerMedia’s silver bullet, they’re in big trouble.”

That’s why it feels as if we are not done with this story. It does feel like there is more to untangle from this complicated web of Zucker-Cuomo-Gollust-Cuomo.


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Has CNN’s reputation taken a hit?

This is a crucial time for CNN. The merger with WarnerMedia and Discovery is in its final stages. A new permanent president needs to be picked. CNN is about to kick off its CNN+ streaming service.

And, as always, it’s a busy news time with the Russia-Ukraine situation, continuing COVID-19 news and the midterm elections about to crank up.

Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, new CNN media contributor David Zurawik said, “Looking at all the war coverage this week, and the fine job CNN is doing — people risking their lives out there and the front lines — made me think back to CNN, all the way back to the Gulf War and all the great kinds of reporting it brings to the American public. And I really hope that this situation and the continued conversation about it — it’s an important story and it needs to be reported at the intensity it needs to be reported at — but I hope it doesn’t wind up leaving CNN a badly damaged institution. … This could damage CNN and that would be a journalistic tragedy given the media ecosystem in which we now live and the few sources that bring us information worldwide that we can trust.”

One more CNN item

Speaking of “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter will have a daily version of the media show on CNN+ when it launches this spring.

In a statement, Stelter said, “There are so many compelling stories to cover through a media lens, and streaming provides a whole new way to do it. We have been building upon the ‘Reliable’ television brand with newsletters and podcasts in recent years, and now ‘Reliable Sources Daily’ is the ultimate expansion.”

‘Inventing Anna’ worth watching

In this April 25, 2019, file photo, Anna Sorokin, who claimed to be a German heiress, returns to the courtroom during her trial on grand larceny and theft of services charges in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

In 2018, New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler wrote an incredibly captivating story about a con artist named Anna Sorokin — better known by her alias, Anna Delvey. The 20-something Sorokin was trying to start her own art society club and, along the way, nearly secured a $25 million loan and lived the wealthiest of lifestyles by convincing people she was a German heiress worth millions. She was not worth millions. Or even German.

Along the way, she was charged with stealing a private jet, running out on luxury hotel bills for hundreds of thousands of dollars and even fooling rich (and not so rich) friends into paying for her lifestyle.

No surprise that the fascinating story was turned into a TV series. The nine-part series “Inventing Anna,” created by Shonda Rhimes (who also was behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”), is airing now on Netflix. Starring Julia Garner (“Ozark”) as Delvey and Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”) as the reporter based on Pressler, the show is a blast. It has been out for a week now, but if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

To be clear, the series is not exactly the way things went down. It’s not a documentary; it’s a fictional account. There’s a disclaimer to start every episode, usually displayed in some inventive way, that says, “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”

The “journalism” part of the series clearly takes some liberties that will have many journalists cringing and yelling at the screen, “That would NEVER happen.” However, the reporter character is the protagonist and comes off as very likable. (Pressler, by the way, is credited as a producer on the show.)

Jackson McHenry of Vulture (part of New York Magazine) recently talked with Pressler about how the series stacks up with real life.

Pressler told McHenry, “There’s an emotional truth to it all, even though the details are different.”

Meanwhile, Emily Palmer covered the month-long Sorokin trial in 2019 for The New York Times and has two pieces out in wake of the series.

First, Palmer has a new Q&A with Sorokin, as well as this story: “Seen ‘Inventing Anna’? Here’s What It Gets Right (and Wrong).”

I’d watch the series before reading any of these pieces. And then go back and read Pressler’s original story. It’s all good stuff.

Troubling comments

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, had some troubling comments about media coverage. Because of COVID-19, reporters for all sports are generally being denied the locker room access they were afforded pre-pandemic. Some leagues — Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League — have indicated that, someday, reporters will be allowed back into the locker rooms.

But Silver seemed to hint that reporters should never return to the locker rooms. He started his comments by admitting that what he was about to say “may not be so popular” with reporters. He then said, “It’s not going to be so easy. I think that depending on where we see this virus, potential variants, you know, I think creating a little bit of distance may make more sense for the foreseeable future.”

Then Silver went further, saying, “I also think it’s a bit of an anachronism to have reporters in the actual room where players are dressing. … To me, there are two issues: There’s just the health and safety issues for the players and for all of you as well. Then there’s also — I’m not sure if we were designing a system from scratch today, we would say come stand next to the players at their lockers as they’re dressing, and that’s the appropriate forum to interview them.”

Silver said he appreciated media coverage and that it was important to the league, and that he’s all for helping the media do their jobs. But he also added it might be time to take a “fresh look” at media access.

As you would expect, media members were not pleased — and for good reason.

The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, a veteran NBA writer, tweeted, “It’s insulting to say NBA reporters are standing around in a locker room watching players dress. Before the pandemic, many relationships between NBA players & media were built during that 30-45 minute period. Interviews done. If the players don’t want to talk, they don’t have to.”

The Washington Post’s Michael Lee tweeted, “It’s insulting & it’s lazy. The best stories are mined in the locker rooms. Otherwise, you wind up with a lot of gossip, rumors & distrust.”

Newsday’s Neil Best tweeted, “Common misconception: It is not about locker rooms per se, it is about a room of some sort where interaction can occur that allows reporters to gather information of interest to fans – and not just a sterile, formal podium.”

As a sportswriter for 30 years who has spent countless hours in locker rooms, I cannot tell you how valuable that time is. It’s not just about interviewing athletes. It’s about building relationships, getting to know athletes, getting them to trust you as an ethical journalist. That’s often done without a tape recorder or notebook. It’s done through casual conversations that often can only happen in a locker room. And, along the way, there are serendipitous stories that pop up because of it.

Sportswriters and athletes managed to coexist for decades in locker rooms. There’s no reason it cannot happen again, especially when there are no longer health concerns. The concern for the media is that limiting access is helping leagues and teams control the message — and that’s not only bad for the media, but for the public.

Turn out the lights

Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Olympics are over. That might be a good thing.

What stood out most? The doping scandal in figure skating? American skier Mikaela Shiffrin and her nightmarish failures? No crowds because of the pandemic?

USA Today’s Christine Brennan called them the “strangest, most controversial, most unwelcoming Olympic Games of our lifetime.”

She wrote, “We have never seen anything quite like these Olympics. They will be deemed a success only because they were not an abject failure. The closed-loop fortress worked; COVID-19 did not explode and run rampant through the Games. But at what cost? These were an Olympics without personality, untouchable by design.”

Then there was the fact that the Games were hosted by China.

The New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers and Kevin Draper wrote, “All along, Chinese officials insisted that the Olympics were not about politics, but rather sports. In the end, controversy and scandal haunted those, too.

For all of China’s efforts to carry on the Winter Games with a festive spirit, Beijing 2022 unfolded as a joyless spectacle: constricted by a global health disaster, fraught with geopolitical tensions, tainted once again by accusations of doping and overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay wrote, “The Olympics are always political. Why would Beijing be any different? Still, at a certain point, every Olympic host can count on the pageantry of the Games taking over, and drowning out any uncomfortable noise. That didn’t really happen this time.”

The next scheduled Olympics are the Summer Games in Paris in 2024 and the Winter Games in Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in 2026.

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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…
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