In the last 48 hours, WarnerMedia C.E.O. Jason Kilar has traveled to New York, Washington and Atlanta to try to quell the anger among CNN staff who are fiercely loyal to Jeff Zucker, their now-former president, and dubious about Kilar’s motives for Zucker’s abrupt and merciless ouster. Their unyielding sympathy for a man who admittedly violated company policy by failing to disclose a romance with his comms chief Allison Gollust has raised some eyebrows in media circles, but it’s indicative of an undeniable truth at CNN: whatever his flaws, successes, and failures, Zucker had earned a Confucian-level filial piety from those whose careers he had helped to create and cultivate.
In any case, Kilar’s effort was futile. His meeting in Washington devolved into insinuations that he was exacting revenge on Zucker for whatever hand the CNN chief may have had in the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger, which will almost certainly result in Kilar’s departure from the company once that deal closes. Throughout today, dozens of CNN executives, on-air talent and off-air insiders reached out to me to echo the sentiment put forth by Dana Bash in last night’s meeting in D.C.: “For a lot of us, the feeling is that, for Jeff, the punishment didn’t fit the crime.”
Pressed for more details on the cause for Zucker’s ouster, Kilar naively asked CNN staff to simply trust his decision. And so in lieu of more details, many CNN insiders—and media insiders, generally—have become consumed by a question: Is there another shoe to drop? Is Zucker guilty of some other crime more befitting of the punishment—and one that, for whatever reason, Kilar does not want to disclose? If so, does that crime involve some coziness between Zucker and Gollust and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo? Gollust was a former aide to the governor, after all. Was there evidence, perhaps, that Zucker and Gollust had advised him in ways that might be inappropriate for executives at a journalistic institution, similar to how Chris Cuomo advised his brother?