On February 2, Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, announced his resignation for violating the company’s code of conduct. Zucker failed to disclose a romantic relationship with his subordinate, chief marketing officer Allison Gollus. He said in a memo that “as part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, [he] was asked about a consensual relationship with [his] closest colleague… [of] over 20 years,” and that he “was required to disclose it when he started, but [he] not. Supposedly, Gollus and Zucker’s longtime relationship turned sexual during the pandemic. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, Gollust was ousted from CNN on Feb. 18 because many people believed the relationship began long before the pandemic hit.
Zucker and Gollus’ relationship may have been completely consensual [he would have still violated CNN’s policy regarding romantic relationships]but their relationship is private and should therefore be excluded from this discussion.
Nonetheless, the power differential between Zucker and Gollus is substantial enough to prompt investigation into Gollus’ ability to refuse Zucker’s sexual advances. Gollus met Zucker when he was executive producer and seven years her senior. The following year, Zucker promoted her to senior publicist. I want to make it clear that my intention is not to question Gollus’ talent as a publicist – there is no reason to suggest that she was undeserving of her promotions – but the evidence suggests that the relationship between Gollus and Zucker played a significant role in his career, and this may have limited Gollus’ decision-making power in the relationship. For example, if Gollust decided she wanted to end her sexual relationship with Zucker, she could have been fired, or her fledgling career could have been otherwise cut short.
This kind of power imbalance was constant throughout their relationship, even though they really started their relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gollust put exorbitant implicit pressure on her to stay in a relationship with Zucker, which left Gollus subservient to his inclinations. She was dependent on Zucker and there is no evidence that she had the freedom to deny his desires. However, the deeply inappropriate nature of their relationship is relegated to the background of articles dealing with the transgression.
The articles I read seemed completely indifferent to the relationship between Zucker and Gollus, instead focusing on the financial impacts of their scandal and, for some reason, Cuomo’s obnoxious behavior. I can somewhat understand why this is happening, given that Discovery, CNN’s parent company, will soon merge with Warner Media, and it’s possible that the growing number of scandals stemming from CNN will derail the merger. Such a cancellation would have a drastic impact on the lives of many people and would therefore clearly be worth reporting. However, fusion is the focus of most articles. The actual events that led to Zucker’s resignation are briefly mentioned, but the nature of his relationship with Gollust or the possibility of Zucker lying to his lawyers about how long the relationship lasted are not considered. These threads also inevitably include a lengthy section on Cuomo, which has no connection to the actual events in Zucker’s history. Cuomo’s actions are reprehensible and worth listing, but they do not fall under this situation. In this context, Cuomo need only be mentioned in relation to the concerning culture of sexual assault at CNN, and how that might affect the merger.
Additionally, the reasons for Zucker’s resignation are often primarily attributed to external factors, not his sexual misconduct. A New York Times article on the subject speculated that “[t]he raised questions about whether future owners of the network would seek major editorial changes,” and that “Mr. Zucker had a strained relationship with Mr. Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia. The case had violated corporate conduct, but that was not the reason given for Kilar to change the corporate structure to expel Zucker. Rather, the article implies that Zucker’s resignation only occurred because a multitude of different factors converged, and suggests that if Zucker was more liked by Kilar, then his misconduct would have been overlooked. Rather, the article should have drawn more attention to the consequences of Zucker’s actions. It appears that the media companies believed that Zucker’s violations were not notable on their own, and therefore other things had to be constantly mentioned for the article to justify its existence as news.