Jeff Zucker Steps Down as CNN President, Cites Relationship With Colleague

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CNN president Jeff Zucker -- who had been at the helm since 2013 and proved integral in revamping the network's programming -- has resigned effective immediately after the network executive failed to disclose a relationship with a close colleague.

The 56-year-old news veteran's announcement Wednesday morning sent a seismic jolt across the industry, after he revealed in a memo as to what led to his sudden resignation.

"As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo's tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years," said Zucker in a memo reported by the network's chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter. "I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn't. I was wrong. As a result, I am resigning today."

Zucker did not name the close colleague, but ET has learned that Zucker and Allison Gollust, the network's chief marketing officer, have been in a relationship for at least two years. In a statement via CNN, Gollust confirmed that her longtime relationship with Zucker had recently evolved, adding she'll remain in her position amid the network brass shakeup.

"Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years," read the statement. "Recently, our relationship changed during COVID. I regret that we didn't disclose it at the right time. I'm incredibly proud of my time at CNN and look forward to continuing the great work we do everyday."

At this moment, it's unclear if Zucker, who split from his wife, Caryn, in 2018, was asked to resign or if he volunteered to step down. In any event, the news reverberated across the network.

"People are sad; they think it's a blow for the network," a source tells ET. "He was a calm and steady voice. He was accessible to talent. People just liked him."

CNN veteran Don Lemon, host of Don Lemon Tonight, echoed in a statement what many staffers have said, adding Zucker was "the best boss" he ever had.

"I'm devastated. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Jeff," Lemon said. "He's the best boss I've ever had and gave me every opportunity to shine when I felt marginalized at the network. Before he came I was ready to leave CNN. At our first meeting I said, 'I'm ready to leave the company,' he said, 'don't leave. [M]ove to New York, and the rest is history.'"

"He was always accessible to talent, he listened to and believed in me," Lemon continued. "But most of all he supported us 100 percent. He made CNN relevant again."

Zucker and Gollust's relationship was no secret. The veteran news anchor Katie Couric alluded to Zucker and Gollust's romance in her recently published tell-all book, Going There. Couric, a longtime co-host on the Today show when Zucker served as its executive producer before they reunited in 2011 on her ABC daytime talk show, recalled in her book how he tried, but ultimately failed, to get Gollust hired on her show, Katie.

Jeff Zucker Katie Couric

Caryn Zucker, Katie Couric and Jeff Zucker on November 1, 2005 in New York City.

Getty

"At a certain point, Jeff made a huge push to bring on Allison Gollust. They were joined at the hip. The problem was, we’d already hired a PR person for the show. There really wasn’t a role for Allison," Couric wrote. “I had to wonder why Jeff was angling so hard to bring Allison on board. She and her husband and kids had moved into the apartment right above Jeff and Caryn’s — everyone who heard about their cozy arrangement thought it was super strange. By that point, Caryn had become a close friend and it made me really uncomfortable."

Couric went on to detail that she did not hire Gollust, a former communications director for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo before joining CNN in 2013. The move may have backfired on Couric, as she was later overlooked for a job at CNN, despite supporting Zucker to become the head of the network.

"His first hire? Allison Gollust. Oh, and I never did hear from him about that job," Couric said.

Zucker's stunning announcement comes less than two months after he fired Chris Cuomo as host of his primetime show, Cuomo Prime Time, after it was revealed Cuomo was more deeply involved in helping his brother, Andrew, build a legal defense against multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Zucker, a Harvard grad, joined CNN in January 2013 following a brief stint as executive producer of Couric's ABC daytime talk show, Katie. Prior to that, he was a star at NBCUniversal, where he began his career in 1986 as a researcher for NBC's coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics. He'd ultimately join the Today show as a field producer before climbing the ranks of executive producer at just 26 in the early 1990s, and eventually taking over as president and CEO of the entire network until 2011. During his time at NBC, Zucker also brought home 11 Emmys to his name and oversaw Donald Trump's rise as The Apprentice.

According to Stelter, Jason Kilar, the CEO of WarnerMedia, announced "interim co-heads for CNN beginning" Wednesday -- Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz. 

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