Just after 7 p.m. ET last night, WarnerMedia C.E.O. Jason Kilar stepped into CNN’s Washington D.C. bureau along with CNN’s newly named interim leaders Michael Bass, Amy Entelis, and Ken Jautz, and did his level best to explain to staff why he had taken the dramatic step of forcing the beloved president of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, to resign over his failure to disclose a consensual relationship with his top aide, Allison Gollust.
It did not go well. The meeting, which I obtained a recording of last night, highlights the profound sense of loyalty that CNN’s on-air talent have toward their longtime leader, despite his violation of company policy, and the anger they feel regarding the circumstances of his sudden defenestration. In the course of a more than hour-long Q&A session, three things became clear: CNN’s top staff believe that Zucker’s punishment was unnecessary; they are dubious about Kilar’s motives for the decision (and wonder if his own fraught relationship with Zucker played a role); and they are at a loss to understand how the network will function in the absence of a leader who was intimately involved in nearly every aspect of the network’s programming.
In his opening remarks, Kilar said it was a “heavy,” “sad,” “awful” and “devastating” day for the network, and sought to cast himself as an ally of Zucker whose relationship with the CNN chief dated back fifteen years to the days when Zucker was running NBCUniversal and Kilar was the founding chief executive of Hulu. That claim belies the truth: As I reported yesterday, Zucker and Kilar have been at odds with one another since Kilar was appointed C.E.O. of WarnerMedia in April 2020, and both have repeatedly tried to undermine one another over the last two years.