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Zucker’s Abrupt Exit From CNN Rattles Staff During Important Election Season

Zucker’s Abrupt Exit From CNN Rattles Staff During Important Election Season

CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker abruptly resigned from his position on Wednesday because of a workplace relationship, and his unexpected exit has left some of the network’s more prominent employees feeling angry and uncertain about their future at a pivotal moment in American politics.

It became more clear on Thursday that Zucker’s exit after nine years as CNN’s leader was anything but voluntary. Zucker said he was leaving for violating corporate policy for not disclosing the nature of his relationship with his second-in-command, Allison Gollust. But he was reportedly given no choice by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who characterized the change as his decision at an emotional meeting with CNN Washington staff members Wednesday night. The Associated Press has obtained an audio recording of that meeting and describes how certain anchors were caught off guard by the sudden change and voiced their concerns as to the network’s next steps.

One revelation from the AP quotes host Jake Tapper, who voiced his concerns regarding the perception that Chris Cuomo (who was fired in December as a CNN host because he’d been privately advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo) had essentially succeeded in a threat to embarrass the company by revealing the relationship if it didn’t pay a settlement fee. “How do we get past the perception that this is the bad guy winning?” Tapper asked at the meeting.

Host John King described Zucker’s hands-on influence in what went on the air and a fear of the unknown without him. “You may not agree with every decision,” the AP reports King said at the meeting. “But you knew someone is going to make a decision, you’re going to know which way you’re going. And this company has had long periods of time where that didn’t exist and those are unpleasant times.”

CNN’s viewership has dropped dramatically in the past year. News ratings have always been cyclical, and the 2020 election brought record numbers of people in, but there’s always the question of when, or if, they will come back. They network is also coming off a contentious period where Trump frequently referred to the network as “fake news.” In the meeting, host Jim Acosta said Zucker had stood strong against the attacks and worried whether anyone else would do the same.

Zucker’s replacement will ultimately be chosen by David Zaslav, who was named as head of the new company created by the pending merger of Discovery, Inc. and WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company.

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