CNN Gollust Discussed Interview Topics With Governor Cuomo, Probe Found

On a Saturday in March 2020, as Covid-19 was invading the United States, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took to CNN for a face-to-face interview. Among other topics, he was asked about a possible government-enforced quarantine of New York was floated by President Donald J. Trump.

It’s a believable topic, but its path to the viewer’s screen will be controversial – and has high consequences for the future of one of the world’s most powerful news networks.

Before the interview, Governor Cuomo told a senior CNN executive, Allison Gollust, about topics he’d like to be asked about online, according to several people familiar with the matter. Gollust, CNN’s longtime director of communications and marketing and a former top aide to the governor, passed topics on to CNN producers and then reported back to the governor.

“Done,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Gollust was forced to resign from CNN after an internal investigation found a series of written communications between her and Governor Cuomo, including messages about the March 2020 arrival, the people said. Jeff Zucker, who at the time was the president of CNN, was aware of many of the communications between Ms. Gollust and the governor, the people said.

The episode is the latest example of CNN’s leadership and one of the country’s most prominent Democratic politicians.

Producers and bookers of television news programs often speak with guests before their scheduled appearances and discuss questions and topics likely to be aired. However, it is unusual for a senior executive to be involved in the interview process before – especially when that executive has previously worked for the interviewee.

Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Ms. Gollust, said the conversations with the governor were appropriate. Ms. Gollust “is not at all suggesting that the inclusion of these topics be a condition of the interview, nor is she suggesting that the interview should be limited to these subjects,” Ms. Heller said.

She added: “WarnerMedia’s reliance on this daily practice to justify firing Allison demonstrates how ignorant they are about journalistic practices and further demonstrates that firing her is nothing more than retaliation.”

CNN, whose tagline is “the most trusted name in the news,” is facing growing questions about how its senior executives and most respected people – Chris Cuomo , the governor’s younger brother – directed coverage of Governor Cuomo, who resigned last summer.

In a memo sent to employees this week, Jason Kilar, chief executive officer of WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, wrote that Ms Gollust resigned after an internal investigation revealed “violations of company policy, including CNN’s news standards and practices,” by her, Mr. Zucker and Chris Cuomo.

Her resignation is the latest blow to CNN, already reeling after Mr. Zucker was suddenly exposed two weeks before. Mr. Zucker said he was leaving because he did not make his relationship public with Ms. Gollust.

The internal review, conducted by law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore, began last fall with a look at allegations of workplace misconduct against Chris Cuomo.

Mr. Zucker fired Mr. Cuomo in December, days after the network received a letter claimed that Mr. Cuomo had sexually assaulted a woman years earlier, and that he then offered to air a flattering CNN segment about her employer. The woman sees it as an attempt to buy back her silence. Mr. Cuomo has denied the allegations.

Mr. Cuomo was also fired for closely advising his brother on how to combat the sex fraud scandal that eventually forced the governor to resign.

After Mr. Cuomo left CNN, the Cravath review took on a life of its own, and it quickly took over the news network.

Investigators learned that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust, who worked closely together for more than two decades, were in a romantic relationship that was not disclosed to human resources or executives. other passengers at WarnerMedia.

Cravath investigators also discovered extensive written communications between Governor Cuomo and Gollust, who briefly worked for the governor in late 2012 and early 2013, the people said. .

It’s not clear what all of those communications were.

However, investigators did find messages during the pandemic in which Governor Cuomo informed Gollust of three specific subjects he wanted protection from during his March 28 appearance. 2020 at CNN, the people said.

They said those topics included his recent phone conversation with Mr Trump and the impact of New York’s lockdown.

Ms. Gollust then texted CNN staff asking to ask the governor about those subjects.

The residents said Cravath’s lawyers had reviewed broadcast recordings that showed the anchor had inquired about the topics Ms. Gollust had brought up.

Ms. Heller, a spokeswoman for Ms. Gollust, said that Ms. Gollust “acted as a key bookkeeper for Governor Cuomo in the early days of the pandemic” and that her role was “known to the entire network”.

It is unclear if Mr. Zucker was aware that Ms. Gollust had passed on Governor Cuomo’s request regarding interview topics.

A WarnerMedia spokesperson told The New York Times about the memo the company sent out to employees Tuesday night.

The departures of Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust have raised questions about the future direction of CNN.

WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, will be spun off and merged with Discovery Inc. in the coming months.

WarnerMedia has tried to keep the drama hidden internally, initially keeping the circumstances of Mr. Zucker’s death private and then releasing a brief, vague memo Tuesday night about Ms. Gollust’s departure and unidentified journalistic disappearances.

Even in conversations with CNN staff, executives and newsroom leaders are mostly mothers, to the growing frustration of journalists and other network employees.

During a Zoom meeting on Wednesday with CNN employees, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz, who became two of the network’s interim leaders following Zucker’s departure, said Gollust violated seriously violated the network’s journalistic standards, said four people who attended the virtual meetings.

WarnerMedia’s top communications official, Christy Haubegger, also said in a staff meeting that Ms. Gollust’s violations “involve Cuomos,” the three said.

When officers pressed for more details, Ms. Haubegger said she was forbidden to say more.

“Actions have been taken to protect the organization and the brand,” she said on the call.

Ms. Haubegger called on CNN’s public relations team to try to focus public attention on the network’s journalism, including its foreign correspondents in Ukraine covering the conflict between the two countries. this with Russia.

The findings of the internal investigation are particularly notable because CNN journalists have repeatedly attack Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity because of his close relationship with Republican leaders, specifically Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump, in turn, repeatedly accused CNN of being a mouthpiece for Democrats.

James B. Stewart contribution report. CNN Gollust Discussed Interview Topics With Governor Cuomo, Probe Found

Fry Electronics Team

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