Jeff Zucker’s CNN exit: Fiery meeting, somber conference call prove many staffers already miss former boss

CNN employees aren’t handling the resignation of former boss Jeff Zucker very well. 

CNN staffers in the network’s Washington, D.C., bureau had a fiery confrontation with WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar when he attempted to justify the departure of the now-former network boss on Wednesday during a “tense” meeting. The confrontational meeting was followed up by a somber Thursday morning call in which Zucker was showered with praise by CNN’s interim leader who urged the network to honor his legacy.  

Zucker, who was beloved by many CNN underlings who often referred to him simply as “JZ,” was thought to have a longstanding feud with Kilar, the head of CNN’s parent company. Zucker resigned Wednesday, and CNN’s Brian Stelter has suggested he was actually forced out by Kilar for failing to disclose a “consensual relationship” with CNN executive Allison Gollust.

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CNN employees declared they were “stunned,” by the news, which raised eyebrows since Zucker’s relationship with Gollust was well known among industry insiders, but Kilar attempted to control the damage by meeting with staffers in both New York and D.C.

However, the D.C. meeting didn’t go particularly well. 

High-profile CNN personalities including Kaitlin Collins, Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta and Dana Bash reportedly grilled Kilar about the ordeal. 

Tapper reportedly told Kilar that to an outside observer, former anchor Chris Cuomo had “succeeded” in leaking damaging information about Zucker and asked something to the effect of, “How do we get past the perception that this is the bad guy winning?” 

New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum shared a lengthy Twitter thread about the “tense hour-long meeting” that included Kilar’s response to Tapper.  

“When it comes to perception, all I can offer you, Jake, is every minute of every day, we’ve got what’s on the screens behind you. I believe that’s what’s going to define us going forward far more than what’s happened today,” Kilar responded. 

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The Times’ reporter said Collins shot back, “I think the issue is that it’s not a perception. What Jake just described is actually what happened here,” but Kilar insisted “appropriate decisions were made with careful, careful consideration.”

Kilar also insisted he didn’t know about Zucker’s relationship with Gollust until recently, according to Grynbaum. 

“The punishment didn’t fit the crime,” Bash told Kilar, according to Stelter. 

Stelter noted “the staffers sounded unpersuaded” by Kilar’s attempt to smooth things over. 

Michael Bass, one of CNN’s interim leaders, addressed employees on a 9 a.m. editorial call that was historically run by Zucker himself. During the somber call, Bass praised Zucker with rhetoric that coincides with comments reportedly made directly to Kilar, according to a transcript of the call obtained by Fox News Digital.

“I’ve heard Jeff described in the last day as our North Star, and as the captain of our ship, the ship that he’s been building for the last 9 years. He’s been… both our guide and our protector in the many storms that we’ve faced… It’s been said over by a few people, but outside of Ted Turner, no one has had a bigger impact, or been more important to, or meant more to CNN, and I don’t think anyone loved it more either. On top of all of those things about being our Captain, and our guide and our North Star, Jeff, as so, so many of you know, was also our friend,” Bass told employees.

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“We will miss him, so much. I know we will, I will tell you because I know people are worried and concerned, and I’m just going to be honest, you can’t replace Jeff. It’s not possible,” Bass continued. “Jeff has created and nurtured and mentored so many of us, and guided the greatest news organization in the world… the best thing we can do is honor his legacy and continue his mission to do great journalism, great enterprise, cover breaking news as best we can, defend democracy, honor truth and facts, do what we do.”

CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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