On a Saturday in March 2020, as Covid-19 was invading america, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo went on CNN for a stay interview. Amongst different subjects, he was asked about a doable government-enforced quarantine of New York that had been floated by President Donald J. Trump.
It was a newsworthy matter, however its path onto viewers’ screens would become controversial — and extremely consequential for the way forward for one of many world’s strongest information networks.
Earlier than the interview, Governor Cuomo had instructed a senior CNN govt, Allison Gollust, about topics that he’d prefer to be requested about on air, in response to a number of folks conversant in the matter. Ms. Gollust, CNN’s longtime chief of communications and advertising and marketing and a former high aide of the governor, handed alongside the subjects to CNN producers after which reported again to the governor.
“Finished,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, Ms. Gollust was forced to resign from CNN after an inner investigation discovered a trove of written communications between her and Governor Cuomo, together with messages in regards to the March 2020 look, the folks stated. Jeff Zucker, who on the time was CNN’s president, was conscious of lots of the communications between Ms. Gollust and the governor, the folks stated.
The episode is the most recent instance of how carefully entwined CNN’s management was with one of many nation’s most outstanding Democratic politicians.
Producers and bookers for tv information exhibits routinely discuss with friends earlier than their scheduled appearances and talk about questions and subjects which can be more likely to come up on air. It’s uncommon, although, for a senior govt to be concerned in that pre-interview course of — particularly when that govt beforehand labored for the one that’s being interviewed.
Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Ms. Gollust, stated the communications with the governor have been acceptable. Ms. Gollust “by no means prompt that inclusion of those subjects was a situation of the interview, nor did she counsel the interview needs to be restricted to those topics,” Ms. Heller stated.
She added: “WarnerMedia counting on this on a regular basis observe as justification for dismissing Allison demonstrates how ignorant they’re of journalistic practices, and additional proves that her dismissal is nothing greater than retaliation.”
CNN, whose slogan is “essentially the most trusted identify in information,” is dealing with mounting questions on how its senior executives and its top-rated anchor — Chris Cuomo, the governor’s youthful brother — steered protection of Governor Cuomo, who resigned final summer season.
In a memo to staff this week, Jason Kilar, the chief govt of WarnerMedia, which is CNN’s father or mother firm, wrote that Ms. Gollust was resigning after the interior investigation discovered unspecified “violations of firm insurance policies, together with CNN’s information requirements and practices,” by her, Mr. Zucker and Chris Cuomo.
Her resignation was the most recent blow to CNN, which was already reeling within the wake of Mr. Zucker’s abrupt ouster two weeks earlier. Mr. Zucker stated he was leaving as a result of he had didn’t disclose a romantic relationship with Ms. Gollust.
The interior evaluate, performed by the legislation agency of Cravath Swaine & Moore, started final fall with an examination of allegations of office misconduct towards Chris Cuomo.
Mr. Zucker fired Mr. Cuomo in December, days after the network received a letter claiming that Mr. Cuomo had years earlier sexually assaulted a girl and that he later provided to air a flattering CNN section about her employer. The girl perceived that as an effort to purchase her silence. Mr. Cuomo has denied the allegations.
Mr. Cuomo additionally got here underneath hearth for having carefully suggested his brother on the right way to fend off a sexual misconduct scandal that finally compelled the governor to resign.
After Mr. Cuomo’s departure from CNN, the Cravath evaluate took on a lifetime of its personal, and it shortly upended the information community.
Investigators discovered that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust, who had labored carefully collectively on and off for greater than 20 years, have been having a romantic affair that had not been disclosed to human sources or different executives at WarnerMedia.
The Cravath investigators additionally uncovered in depth written communications between Governor Cuomo and Ms. Gollust, who had briefly labored for the governor in late 2012 and early 2013, the folks stated.
It wasn’t clear what all of these communications have been about.
However investigators discovered messages in the course of the pandemic through which Governor Cuomo knowledgeable Ms. Gollust about three particular topics that he wished to be coated throughout a March 28, 2020, look at CNN, the folks stated.
They stated these subjects included his latest cellphone dialog with Mr. Trump and the impact of New York’s being positioned underneath lockdown.
Ms. Gollust then despatched messages to CNN workers requesting that the governor be requested about these topics.
The Cravath attorneys reviewed broadcast transcripts that confirmed that the anchor requested in regards to the topics that Ms. Gollust had put ahead, the folks stated.
Ms. Heller, the spokeswoman for Ms. Gollust, stated that Ms. Gollust “acted because the principal booker for Governor Cuomo in the course of the early days of the pandemic” and that her position was “well-known by your complete community.”
It was unclear whether or not Mr. Zucker knew that Ms. Gollust handed on Governor Cuomo’s request about interview subjects.
A spokesman for WarnerMedia referred The New York Occasions to the memo that the corporate despatched to staff on Tuesday night time.
The back-to-back exits of Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust have raised questions in regards to the future route of CNN.
WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T, is about to be spun off and merged with Discovery Inc. within the coming months.
WarnerMedia has tried to maintain a lid on the interior drama, initially remaining tight-lipped in regards to the circumstances of Mr. Zucker’s departure after which issuing a brief, vaguely worded memo on Tuesday night time about Ms. Gollust’s departure and unspecified journalistic lapses.
Even in conversations with CNN workers, executives and newsroom leaders have been principally mum, to the mounting frustration of the community’s journalists and different staff.
In a pair of Zoom conferences on Wednesday with CNN staff, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz, who stepped in as two of the community’s interim leaders after Mr. Zucker’s departure, stated Ms. Gollust had dedicated severe violations of the community’s journalistic requirements, 4 individuals who attended the digital conferences stated.
WarnerMedia’s high communications official, Christy Haubegger, additionally stated in a workers assembly that Ms. Gollust’s transgressions had “to do with the Cuomos,” three folks stated.
When staff pressed for extra particulars, Ms. Haubegger stated she was barred from saying extra.
“Actions have been taken to defend the establishment and the model,” she stated on the decision.
Ms. Haubegger urged CNN’s public relations staff to attempt to focus public consideration on the community’s journalism, together with its overseas correspondents in Ukraine overlaying that nation’s brewing battle with Russia.
The interior investigation’s findings are particularly notable as a result of CNN journalists have repeatedly attacked Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity for having an excessively shut relationship with Republican leaders, particularly Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, in flip, repeatedly accused CNN of being a mouthpiece for Democrats.
James B. Stewart contributed reporting.