‘Joined at the Hip’: Jeff Zucker’s Relationship With a Top CNN Executive

Jeff Zucker’s tenure as president of CNN ended in an abrupt fashion on Wednesday just days after he acknowledged to company lawyers what had long been rumored in television news circles: He was in a romantic relationship with the person he has described as his closest professional colleague, Allison Gollust.

Ms. Gollust, 49, is CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, although those titles only hint at her influence: As one of the network’s senior leaders, she is closely involved in business and communications strategy. She also served as Mr. Zucker’s chief spokeswoman, fiercely defending him as he battled then-President Donald J. Trump, contended with corporate rivals and navigated ethics scandals.

She has worked alongside Mr. Zucker for more than 20 years, starting as a senior publicist at NBC’s “Today” show in 1997, when Mr. Zucker — then a wunderkind executive producer in his mid-20s — was sending the morning program to phenomenal ratings heights.

Their relationship is now central to the question of why Mr. Zucker, 56, was forced by WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, to step down so suddenly from his job of nine years. CNN is weeks away from starting a subscription streaming platform, and WarnerMedia is on the verge of a major acquisition by Discovery Inc.

For CNN staff members, Mr. Zucker’s resignation after failing to disclose the relationship, as required by the company’s standards policy, was a surprise. Many journalists and producers at CNN have expressed confusion, even on the air, about why a consensual relationship between two divorced colleagues — one a network president, the other a high-ranking executive — would precipitate the dramatic move.

WarnerMedia’s standards policy states that personal relationships must be disclosed immediately to “avoid a conflict of interest,” particularly if one of the people is in a “position to influence” a career track.

It was abundantly clear to colleagues and friends that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust often traveled and functioned together as a unit.

In recent years, it was rare for Mr. Zucker to appear at public events without Ms. Gollust at his side. They sat beside one another at White House Correspondents’ Association dinners, industry galas like the Peabody Awards, glitzy events at the old Four Seasons restaurant, and, last fall, a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden, which they attended with a group of CNN colleagues, including the hosts Don Lemon and Fareed Zakaria.

Colleagues who encountered Mr. Zucker in the halls of CNN’s Midtown Manhattan offices would be sure to see Ms. Gollust following a few feet behind, if not already engaged in a “West Wing”-style walk-and-talk with Mr. Zucker. The impression, colleagues said, was that the two ran the network more or less as a unit, puzzling together over most major decisions affecting the future of CNN.

It was a pattern that dated back to earlier chapters of Mr. Zucker’s career at NBCUniversal, where Ms. Gollust first emerged as his most trusted aide-de-camp.

“They were joined at the hip,” the former “Today” anchor Katie Couric wrote about Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust in her 2021 memoir, “Going There.”

When both were still married to their respective spouses, Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust lived for several years in the same luxury co-op apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; Ms. Gollust and her family lived one floor above the Zuckers.

Office relationships are not uncommon in the high-pressure world of TV news, and rumors of a potential romance between the two proliferated, especially after their divorces. Mr. Zucker and his wife, Caryn, divorced in 2017; The New York Post reported that Ms. Gollust and her husband filed for divorce in 2015.

But the rumors stayed only rumors, until Wednesday.

Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia who informed Mr. Zucker that he would have to resign, told CNN journalists at a meeting in its Washington bureau on Wednesday that he was “not aware of the relationship” before the recent events. Mr. Kilar would not specify when he first learned of it, but he acknowledged that the relationship emerged as part of CNN’s investigation into the tenure of Chris Cuomo, the star anchor who was fired last year for advising his brother, then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, on how to deal with sexual harassment accusations.

In his memo on Wednesday announcing his resignation, Mr. Zucker put it this way: “The relationship evolved in recent years.” Ms. Gollust, in her own statement, wrote: “Recently, our relationship changed during Covid.”

Ms. Gollust said she would remain at CNN.

At NBC — where Mr. Zucker was first president of its entertainment division, and then chief executive of NBCUniversal — Ms. Gollust took on significant responsibilities. She oversaw communications for NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and the Weather Channel, and then moved into an executive communications role at NBC Universal.

In 2011, after Mr. Zucker was ousted from NBC Universal, he became an executive producer for a new daytime talk show being developed for Ms. Couric at ABC. Mr. Zucker made a “huge push to bring on” Ms. Gollust to handle public relations for the show, Ms. Couric wrote in her book. She recalled telling Mr. Zucker that she had already hired someone for the role, and that Mr. Zucker urged her to meet with Ms. Gollust anyway.

“I had to wonder why Jeff was angling so hard to bring Allison on board,” Ms. Couric wrote. “She and her husband and kids had moved into the apartment right above Jeff and Caryn’s — everyone who heard about the cozy arrangement thought it was super-strange. By that point, Caryn had become a close friend and it made me really uncomfortable.”

Ms. Couric wrote that she told Ms. Gollust that there was no job for her.

By late 2012, Ms. Gollust had signed on to become communications director for Andrew Cuomo, then New York’s governor.

Shortly after she started working with Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Zucker was named the next president for CNN. Ms. Gollust left her job with Mr. Cuomo after four months to rejoin Mr. Zucker and lead communications for CNN.

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