Jeff Zucker's New Remarks Point to the Disarray at CNN Leading to Chris Cuomo Debacle

Jeff Zucker's New Remarks Point to the Disarray at CNN Leading to Chris Cuomo Debacle
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Once again, CNN’s failure to address the problem directly is leading to more problems.

While the Chris Cuomo era at CNN may be over, the Cuomo saga sure has not ended. After a whirlwind week of drama where evidence of impropriety was released, Cuomo was suspended, the news industry was agog, then he was fired, and then followed by claims of sexual misconduct. In the wake of this, Cuomo is ending his Sirius Radio podcast, and he just had a proposed book deal spiked by his publisher. The deposed pundit is now positioning himself for a lawsuit, looking to be paid the balance of his contract. This operatic melodrama is becoming a cable news telenovela.

The latest news comes from inside CNN headquarters in Atlanta – sort of. That gauzy description is part of the new development, where the network, and specifically its CEO, Jeff Zucker, are looking even more inept. Media maven Brian Stelter’s sidekick, Oliver Darcy, writes about Jeff Zucker addressing CNN employees in a town hall meeting, and he sounds as if he is writing from an outside news outlet.

Meanwhile, Jeff Zucker said during a CNN-wide town hall that the news outlet will not pay Cuomo a severance. A Cuomo spokesman “had no comment on the CNN decision,” WSJ’s Ben Mullin wrote.

Now, wait. Do you not work at CNN, Ollie? How is it you manage to sound like you tried to get some information but were stymied by those you have no hope of contacting? This is Darcy mimicking the method of his mentor, as Brian Stelter has always reported on Cuomo in this same fashion — as a distant observer. He used the “we reached out to Cuomo’s people” dodge months ago when Chris was still on the air. 

In a similar fashion, when the Cuomo scandals broke, Stelter would send out a flurry of tweets, most of which were either repeating executive press releases or reflecting what some inside the company were murmuring privately. This is their manner of appearing to cover the story while actually not delving into the matter. It is a reflection of the very lax behavior of not analyzing their own network with the standards they attempt to force onto the likes of Fox News.

So, as Ollie references the Wall Street Journal to get the details of the CNN town hall, one that he should have been directly privy to watch, we learn something else that sounds unintentionally revealing. Zucker, in the effort to displace responsibility, makes his news gathering network look completely inept in the business of gathering information on someone on their own payroll.

Said the head of the network regarding the latest Cuomo revelations, “When Ms. James’s office [New York Attorney General Letitia James] released records into the investigation of Andrew Cuomo last week, CNN executives were caught off guard.”

He says this about the details concerning Cuomo’s involvement with his brother’s crisis team regarding his sex abuse scandal. News of his probable involvement was known last February, but CNN was incapable of gleaning any further details? Most casual observers were both certain Chris involved himself and confused on how he was remaining on the air. But CNN pretends this was all an unprecedented surprise to them.

Then Zucker continued to undermine himself and his network. “Mr. Zucker also said he wished Chris Cuomo had taken a leave of absence in May when allegations that he participated in strategy sessions with his brother first surfaced.” This was following the previous revelation that Chris was actually involved in the strategy phone calls with his brother’s office. This was in direct conflict with what Cuomo had said on the air about his level of participation, but also Zucker’s previous comments about the anchor not having been revealing with his bosses about his participation.

All of this makes the network look feeble in the face of a misbehaving employee. Look at what Zucker says here, following the summertime expose of Cuomo’s actions: he wished Cuomo had taken himself off the air?! Not only is this a ridiculous expectation of an ego-riddled media star, but just how impotent is Zucker and the CNN executive staff that they hoped he would do the right thing, instead of taking direct action and rightfully punishing bad behavior?


CNN anchor Chris Cuomo arrives for the funeral for journalist Jimmy Breslin, at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in New York, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Breslin died Sunday, at age
(AP image)

Just prior to Cuomo being let go, I wrote how his fate may be hinging not on CNN’s desire to punish him, but on the corporate heads who now control the network. Jeff Zucker’s words at the CNN town hall reflect that very possibility, as he displays ineffectual leadership. 

This is a news network being completely surprised by what their own newsman has been doing, followed by their hope that the one misbehaving would do the right thing. The lack of corrective action was shielded by their in-house media experts, and all expected things to blow over, as they only had become worse. It seems clear the Warners-Discovery executives are grabbing the reins and attempting to steer this galloping fiasco back onto a stable path.

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