Stelter addresses past communication between Gollust, Gov. Cuomo, potential lawsuits: ‘A legal mess for CNN’

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Host of “Reliable Sources” Brian Stelter said Sunday the situation involving the resignations of former CNN president Jeff Zucker and former CNN marketing chief Allison Gollust was “a legal mess for CNN.”

“I was told by a source that Zucker can’t comment further on the substance of why he left why he did and what happened,” Stelter said. “Everybody is lawyer-ed up, Chris Cuomo might sue, Cuomo’s lawyer apparently wants tens of millions of dollars out of this network, so this is now a legal mess for CNN.”

Panelist Joe Peyronnin, a former vice president of CBS News, agreed with Stelter and argued that it could have been avoided. 

Jeff Zucker was beloved by many CNN underlings who often referred to him simply as "JZ." (J. Countess/Getty Images)

Jeff Zucker was beloved by many CNN underlings who often referred to him simply as “JZ.” (J. Countess/Getty Images)

Stelter noted earlier in the segment that reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both offered somewhat different accounts of what happened, adding later that they did not necessarily contradict each other. 

Gollust resigned from CNN after their parent company, WarnerMedia, discovered a previous statement that she made about her relationship with Zucker was misleading, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Gollust originally said her and Zucker’s relationship “changed during COVID.” Some CNN and WarnerMedia employees reportedly believed their relationship was romantic prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wall Street Journal reported that people familiar with the matter then determined her original statement was misleading. 

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WarnerMedia chief executive released a statement earlier in the week after Gollust’s resignation. 

John Griffin worked closely with former CNN star Chris Cuomo. 

John Griffin worked closely with former CNN star Chris Cuomo. 
(CNN)

“Based on interviews of more than 40 individuals and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails, the investigation found violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo,” the statement said.

The New York Times reported that the standards and practices violation was about conversations Gollust had with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y. She had also previously worked for Cuomo before assuming her position at CNN and was the personal booker for the governor, according to Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Gollust. 

The Times alleges that Andrew Cuomo told Gollust about topics he wanted to be asked about during his March 2020 live interview. She reportedly brought the topics to the producers at CNN and then got back to the governor.

“Done,” she said, according to the Times. Zucker was reportedly aware of the communications between Gollust and Andrew Cuomo. 

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“It is definitely unusual that the head of PR was involved in booking Cuomo and relaying information back and forth,” Stelter said. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing on June 12, 2020, in New York City.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing on June 12, 2020, in New York City.
(Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

The “Reliable Sources” host said that a statement from Gollust’s spokesperson said it was “well known by the entire network,” was not true. Stelter said that the CNN anchors that he spoke with were surprised by what was reported by the New York Times.

Mara Schiavocampo, a former ABC and NBC News correspondent, said that Gollust’s communications with the governor don’t come close to “being unethical or even unusual.” She said it was common for someone being interviewed to request to talk about certain subjects. Schiavocampo said it was also common to grant them that, but that making the interview “conditional on those things” or “agreeing not to ask about certain things” would be unethical. 

“Maybe we don’t know the full story yet,” she said. 

“In terms of Allison and in terms of sharing questions and all that, we don’t know everything that was shared. We don’t know what was said, what Cuomo the governor said to her. To avoid that, why have her in the process, knowing that she was working with him,” Peyronnin said. 

He said that major news networks do have rules with regard to interviews. “They do not allow you to share questions, they do not allow you to take any questions from whoever the subject is,” he said, noting that you can mention the subject area.

“You cannot provide questions. That is a rule because you don’t want anything to damage potentially the quality of the interview,” he said. 

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