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WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar faced an angry audience Wednesday during a meeting with CNN employees who appeared unhappy with Jeff Zucker’s forced resignation over the executive’s failure to disclose a romantic relationship with with CNN’s marketing chief, who reported to him.
That’s according to leaked audio of the explosive hour-long meeting obtained by Business Insider — funny how that occurs. Leading the charge in pressing Kilar was the on-air talent enabled by Zucker, led by Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta and Kaitlan Collins. The cabal was frustrated that Zucker didn’t get a second chance after disclosing his relationship with Allison Gollust, pressing Kilar on why Zucker was replaced so quickly.
Tapper, who said on the call that CNN would have become “benign, vanilla gruel” if not for Zucker’s leadership, referred to former network colleague Chris Cuomo as a “terrorist” for pushing Zucker to pay him the $18 million remaining on his contract after the anchor was fired for helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo respond to sexual harassment allegations — despite his relationship with Gollust being water-cooler gossip for years, Zucker wrote in a memo announcing his retirement that the relationship had come up during an internal investigation involving Chris Cuomo.
According to various reports, Cuomo’s attorneys informed Kilar of Zucker’s romantic dalliance and he then informed AT&T CEO John Stankey — WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, is CNN’s parent company.
“The perception that Chris Cuomo gets fired by CNN. Chris Cuomo hires a high-powered lawyer who has a scorched-earth policy, who then makes it very clear to the world that unless Jeff gives Chris Cuomo his money, they’re going to blow the place up,” Tapper said, according to the leaked audio.
“An outside observer might say, ‘Well, looks like Chris Cuomo succeeded. He threatened. Jeff said, We don’t negotiate with terrorists, and Chris blew the place up.’ How do we get past that perception that this is the bad guy winning?’ he asked.
Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins was quick to back Tapper’s play on demonizing Chris Cuomo.
“I think the issue is that it’s not a perception. What Jake just described is actually what happened here,” she said. “Chris Cuomo is a man scorned because he was fired for being held accountable for his actions, and Jeff is part of the result of this. It sounds like you did not consult any other executives on removing a critical part of the company, and I think that’s the frustration here.”
No surprise, Trump-hating prima-donna reporter Jim Acosta presented a spirited defense of Zucker — his remarks leave one with the impression that he knew the audio would be leaked.
“If we had not had Jeff here during the Trump administration, we would have probably been taken out and you would have something like Fox News lite on CNN right now, no offense,” Acosta said. “It’s a rather delicate time, not just for this country but this business.”
Kilar avoided direct answers about Zucker’s resignation, but told the employees “this was carefully thought through in terms of every scenario, every possibility, and in the end, this is the decision that I came to, and I am comfortable with the decision.”
The WarnerMedia executive opted to push company values while also playing up to the on-air talent by offering praise for Zucker, “I’m in agreement with this room about the contributions of Jeff Zucker. I cannot be more adamant about that.”
“There have been hundreds of thousands of decisions made when no one’s been looking, and from a journalistic perspective, from a business building perspective, and from a leadership perspective, from a backbone perspective, they’ve been good decisions,” Kilar added. “What comes first ahead of business considerations is, what do we stand for? What are our values and what are our principles? This topic has been about that, full stop.”
“You’re not going to get an answer from me that says well because of the business impact of this decision, I think we should be a bit more malleable with regards to what we stand for. That is not a place I believe any world-class company should go,” he explained.
He then fell back on the network’s legacy, seemingly looking past the reality that it’s now in tatters.
“I believe that’s what’s going to define us going forward far more than what’s happened today,” he said. “‘I know that answer doesn’t sit well with a lot of people in this room, but I believe it to be the case, which is that we are here for a 24/7 news service that is vital to our society. I think that’s our legacy. I do not think today is our legacy in terms of the news of today. I don’t.”
Rumors continue to swirl about Zucker’s inappropriately close friendship with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — girlfriend Gollust once worked for Cuomo as head of communications. The New York Post cited a source to report that Zucker and Gollust coached Cuomo during his infamous COVID briefings and gave the politician “endless positive coverage because of their relationship.” They also allegedly encouraged Cuomo to appear on air with his younger brother to drive ratings.
A Zucker representative denied the report, saying: “This is 100% false.”
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