While offering a recap of Zucker’s downfall, the liberal network’s media correspondent stammered while explaining the timeline of the ex-CNN president’s affair with college Allison Gollust.
“Gollust said in a statement that their relationship evolved, uh, during COVID, during the pandemic, the implication being that they, uh, were professional colleagues for decades and only recently, uh, became, um, romantic,” Stelter said Thursday.
Stelter vowed to listeners that CNN would address the scandal “as transparently as possible” and the episode was going to “honestly be blunt or raw, I don’t know.”
“We’re just going to tell you what we know and what we don’t know and what might be coming next,” Stelter said.
However, throughout the 51-minute podcast, Stelter never acknowledged whether he knew about the Zucker-Gollust affair, which has been widely called an “open secret” among media personalities, former CNN employees and even anonymous CNN employees.
Stelter invited media reporters Claire Atkinson of Business Insider and Sara Fischer of Axios, as well as his CNN colleague Oliver Darcy, to discuss the CNN chaos.
Atkinson and Fischer provided commentary on the scandal, largely refraining from grilling Stelter about his knowledge of the turmoil as he was the one posing most of the questions during the podcast.
The “Reliable Sources” host complained about the challenge as a media correspondent reporting on his own employer.
“I feel like I’m on a fence and I have one foot on the inside and one foot on the outside because here I am working inside CNN and also covering CNN reporting on what’s going on,” Stelter said. “So I’m here straddling the fence, OK? And so as someone doing that when I’m looking at CNN on the inside, I’m thinking, ‘This is a massive global news outlet. It’s so much bigger than most people realize as bureaus around the world.”
The Cuomo angle
While much of what Stelter said on the podcast did not break new ground, he did insist that Zucker would still have his job today if he forced ex-CNN anchor Chris Cuomo to take a leave of absence to help his brother, then-embattled Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was swept up in a growing sexual harassment scandal, citing the “domino effect” that took place over the past year.
Things did get a bit contentious between Stelter and Atkinson when the Business Insider media correspondent suggested CNN should go “back” to “factual news reporting” versus being opinion-driven like it has in both the Trump and post-Trump eras.
‘Get back to news!’
“I’ve got to jump in a little bit,” Stelter interrupted. “I get offended when I hear people say ‘Get back to news!’ You know, we’ve got crews all over Ukraine and we have bureaus all around the world. Just as a CNN staffer, I get bothered by the notion that-“
“But do you see them in the evening and primetime? Do you see that in primetime?” Atkinson asked.
“I think it always depends on the day, you know,” Stelter responded. “I think I remember the day that a hurricane it came up the East Coast and the floods started in New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut and we were doing ‘Don Lemon Tonight’ and I was on Don’s show just doing a random news story. And I was like, ‘Gosh, we really need to change topics and cover the flood. This is a flood emergency.’ Sure enough, you know, Zucker calls into the control room at 11 o’clock, he says, ‘Go wall-to-wall with the flood! The flood’s the story!’ … But I do agree with you, Claire, every day is different and there are a lot of days where it is more about point of view in primetime.”
Stelter was triggered when Atkinson invoked CNN’s dismal ratings, dismissing critics who say Zucker should have been canned for the network’s exodus of viewers.
“There’s this narrative out there [that] CNN is failing in the ratings and that that must be why Zucker was pushed out. And I think that’s nuts,” Stelter said, “because the ratings are always rising and falling for cable news based on what’s in the news. And so I just want to make the point that yes, CNN’s at a low point right now because we’re in a low point in the news cycle. To me, this is not an unusually low point.”
It is unclear whether Fischer or Atkinson ever asked Stelter if he knew about the Zucker-Gollust affair prior to the podcast recording. It is also unclear if any parts of the discussion were edited out of the “Reliable Sources” podcast. Stelter did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Zucker stunned CNN staffers by informing them of his immediate departure from the network, saying he was “wrong” to not disclose his relationship with colleague Allison Gollust, an executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
Gollust, who is remaining with the company, issued her own statement, saying, “Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years. Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time.”
Damning revelations have been reported since Zucker’s resignation, including how his relationship with Gollust dates to 1996 when she was a “trainee” and he was the executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show and how the two of them fed “talking points” to Gollust’s old boss, Andrew Cuomo, to combat attacks from then-President Trump in the early months of the COVID pandemic.
The CNN lovebirds were also reportedly “instrumental” in the televised Cuomo Brothers interviews in 2020 and Gollust personally appealed to the governor to continue his CNN appearances when his office began resisting.