Zaz Comes to CNN

WBD C.E.O. David Zaslav, at the end of the 9 a.m. call, described CNN as an “unmoored boat.” But, he said, “this is our company, our boat. We all have an oar.”
WBD C.E.O. David Zaslav described CNN as an “unmoored boat.” But, he said, “this is our company, our boat. We all have an oar.” Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
March 4, 2022

At 9:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, the interim leadership at CNN—Michael Bass, Amy Entelis, and Ken Jautz, affectionately referred to by insiders as “The Trio”—put on their coats and left CNN headquarters at Hudson Yards for a meeting with David Zaslav, the soon-to-be president and C.E.O. of Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s soon-to-be parent company. The meeting, which also included CNN’s chief financial officer Brad Ferrer, and top lawyer David Vigilante, marked the formal beginning of what all parties hope will be a new chapter for the news network, sources familiar with the meeting told me—a chapter in which the drama surrounding Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Jason Kilar can be put in the rear-view mirror and the network can start telling a more favorable story about its industry-leading newsgathering capability and its coverage of the war in Ukraine.

After Zucker’s surprise defenestration, CNN was wracked by anger and frustration. Everyone reading this story has also read the transcript of Jake Tapper berating Kilar for his mismanagement of the crisis, or Kaitlan Collins spinning the outgoing WarnerMedia C.E.O. around her finger with some rhetorical jujitsu. This open grieving spilled out into public view, and led to a steady drip of leaks about Zucker and Gollust’s alleged misdeeds that never provided any real evidence of a smoking gun, and thus no real sense of closure. The grieving led to more grieving, and Kilar was a more than willing emotional pinata.

The Ukraine crisis changed that. It’s always unbecoming to cite human tragedy as a boon for media organizations, but the Russian invasion gave CNN a new focus and purpose at a time when it needed both desperately. It also highlighted CNN’s unparalleled journalistic strength in times of crisis, as well as the relative weakness of competitors who don’t have the global correspondent armada or global production infrastructure to meet the moment in quite the same way. And, of course, the singular coverage has been delivering ratings the likes of which CNN hasn’t seen since the chaotic final days of the Trump administration.