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Culture

CNN Probe Complete, Yet Mysteries on Cuomo, Zucker Remain

February 17, 2022

NEW YORK — CNN’s parent company says it has completed its investigation into circumstances surrounding the firing of anchor Chris Cuomo and ouster of network chief Jeff Zucker. But for a news organization, it has chosen to leave questions unanswered.

The internal report, commissioned in September and prepared by the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, will not be made public, WarnerMedia said on Wednesday.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told CNN employees late Tuesday that the report had been finished over the weekend. His memo said that marketing executive Allison Gollust, the woman whose relationship with Zucker led to his downfall, would also be leaving the company.

Kilar said the probe, based on interviews with more than 40 people and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails, “found violations of company policies, including CNN’s news standards and practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust and Chris Cuomo.”

Cuomo, a former CNN prime-time host, was fired by Zucker in December after documents revealed how he had helped his brother, ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, strategize over how to fight charges of sexual misconduct. Zucker was forced to resign earlier this month because he had violated company policy in not revealing that his relationship with Gollust was romantic.

Kilar said in his memo that “this news is troubling, disappointing and, frankly, painful to read.”

But the statement did not specify the alleged violations of news standards. Even Kilar’s memo wasn’t completely clear — did each individual named violate both company policies and news standards? — and a WarnerMedia spokesman offered no clarification on Wednesday.

Zucker is prohibited from making further statements about his departure from CNN, according to someone familiar with the separation agreement who spoke under condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to talk about it.

“Jeff resigned due to an undisclosed personal relationship,” said Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Zucker.

But a spokesman for Cuomo, Steve Goldberg, said that “it is clear this was never about an undisclosed relationship. As Mr. Cuomo has stated previously, Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were not only entirely aware but fully supportive of what he was doing to help his brother. The still open question is when WarnerMedia is going to release the results of its investigation and explain its supposed basis for terminating Mr. Cuomo.”

Heller said that Zucker was never aware of the full extent to which Cuomo was helping his brother, “which is why Chris was fired.”

News organizations have taken different approaches to how it deals with investigations into the actions of its journalists. CBS News issued an extensive public report by an independent panel in 2005 dissecting a discredited story on former President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. A decade later, NBC News kept private its internal findings about how anchor Brian Williams had made inaccurate statements about things that he had covered.

The New York Times, in a story published Wednesday, offered details on a letter sent to CNN by Debra Katz, an attorney who has represented sexual harassment victims, accusing Cuomo of misconduct with a young woman when he worked at ABC News prior to joining CNN.

The letter said that years after the alleged misconduct, when the #MeToo movement was making news, Cuomo had contacted the woman about doing a CNN story on the company where she was then working, according to the Times. CNN did the story, although the woman tried to avoid contact with Cuomo, the newspaper said.

Katz wrote that the woman suspected Cuomo was trying to discourage her from coming forward to talk about the alleged misconduct, the Times said.

Katz declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Cuomo’s representatives vigorously denied the allegations of sexual misconduct and said Cuomo’s motivations in later reaching out to the woman were mischaracterized and were entirely journalistic in nature.

“He was never asked about the allegations prior to being terminated nor given an opportunity to respond to the allegations,” Goldberg said.

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