Jeff Zucker’s CNN exit: AT&T CEO called out for claiming ousted boss resigned on own terms

AT&T CEO John Stankey was called out Friday on live TV for claiming ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker made the decision to resign when multiple outlets have reported the exact opposite took place. 

Zucker shocked the media industry on Wednesday by announcing his immediate resignation from CNN, citing an undisclosed relationship with CNN marketing chief Allison Gollust as the reason. Reports quickly emerged that WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar actually forced Zucker out and recordings of a meeting at CNN’s Washington, D.C. bureau featured the network’s hosts confronting Kilar about his decision to show Zucker the door.   

John Stankey was called out Friday on live TV for claiming ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker made the decision to resign when multiple outlets have reported the exact opposite actually took place. 

John Stankey was called out Friday on live TV for claiming ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker made the decision to resign when multiple outlets have reported the exact opposite actually took place. 
(CNBC Screenshot)

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But on Friday, Stankey, who runs WarnerMedia parent AT&T, joined CNBC to discuss a looming merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery, and made a claim that contradicted what media observers have learned in recent days. 

“Jeff resigned and the decision to resign was Jeff’s decision. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances… these are the hardest decisions, they’re always difficult anytime you get involved in a personal situation and I know Jeff had a tremendous following within CNN and there are people who are incredibly loyal and supportive of him. That makes it hard for those individuals,” Stankey said on CNBC. 

“Squawk Box” co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin realized Stankey’s version of events didn’t add up and fact-checked the high-powered executive.

“We’re running a banner here that says Jeff Zucker made the decision to resign based on what you just said, however, Jason Kilar was recorded having a conversation with the staff at CNN in Washington where it was clear that it was not Jeff Zucker’s decision. In fact, not only was it not his decision when he was effectively pushed, he apparently wanted to stay for another week or two or three and he couldn’t,” Sorkin said.

“So, just try to square the reality of this. It sounds– he may technically have resigned … he said, ‘I’ll resign rather than you technically fire me,’ but clearly he was pushed to do this,” Ross Sorkin continued. “Can you just speak to that and also speak to the fact that Allison Gollust is still in her job and how you think about the distinction between those two?”

Jeff Zucker was reportedly forced to resign by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who essentially admitted he made the decision to CNN staffers. (Getty images)

Jeff Zucker was reportedly forced to resign by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who essentially admitted he made the decision to CNN staffers. (Getty images)
(Getty images  |  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)

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Stankey responded that he “wasn’t involved in any of the discussion in Washington, D.C., so I can’t speak to what was said.”

The remarks from Wednesday’s tense meeting have been widely reported by prominent news organizations, with everyone from Jake Tapper to Jim Acosta speaking out on Zucker’s behalf. CNN’s own Brian Stelter reported on Friday that many inside CNN keep uttering variations of, “Jason [Kilar] took down the best boss I ever had.”

However, Stankey declared he wasn’t familiar with any of it. 

“I’m not familiar with it,” Stankey said. “Jason certainly has his point of view, and I’m sure had a conversation. I’m not going to comment on the personnel issues, Allison, her circumstances are different, and I don’t want to get involved in discussing her situation either.”

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