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CNN is facing calls to fire chief media correspondent Brian Stelter for not exposing Jeff Zucker’s relationship with senior executive Allison Gollust.
Zucker resigned as CNN president on Wednesday after an investigation into former anchor Chris Cuomo revealed Zucker has had a romantic relationship with Gollust. Zucker did not report this relationship to his superiors, as WarnerMedia’s protocols demand.
Zucker’s relationship with Gollust has long been an open secret. Journalists outside and within CNN, including Stelter, knew about it. And therein lies the issue.
An unidentified employee, whom Daily Mail referred as a “CNN insider,” called on the network to fire Stelter for failing to do his job:
“The network needs to step up and fire Brian Stelter. He is allegedly our top media reporter — yet he failed to report on the scoop that everyone in the office knew. And if he wants to say he didn’t know, he is truly terrible at his job.”
The insider continues: “[Stelter has] been sitting on his moral high horse doing Jeff’s bidding and ripping Fox and every other media outlet that Jeff tells him to while his ratings crash and burn. Where was he on the biggest story at his own network after chastising everyone else?”
Stelter’s role in reporting on CNN remains fuzzy. Does CNN allow him to report and cover his own network like he does Fox News? I doubt it.
However, that won’t erase suspicions inside the building. CNN employees always viewed Stelter as one of Zucker’s favorites and were hardly surprised Stelter wouldn’t report on the affair, which began when Zucker and Gollust were both married.
But it still violated his duties as a journalist.
“Brian Stelter should be calling his agent to start looking for another job,” another “CNN insider,” told the New York Post. “He’s been Jeff Zucker’s water boy for years and no one believes he didn’t know about all of this.”
So how does the future of Brian Stelter look without the muscle of CNN behind him? Honestly, not as bad as you might think. Stelter doesn’t need CNN.
Say what you will about Stelter’s commentary and reporting, but people react to him and read what he writes and tweets. Reliable Sources, Stelter’s weekly television show, is the least valuable of his properties in terms of influence — his reach is more digital than linear. Even Stelter’s harshest critics subscribe to his media newsletter. Without CNN, Stelter could start a Substack or write and host a podcast on any of the many liberal outlets, such as Slate, the New York Times or Washington Post.
So the question is how big of a distraction does Stelter covering for Zucker become for the network? Remember, AT&T is spinning WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, off with Discovery Inc. later this year, and any scandals and distractions could threaten this merger.
Ultimately, new CNN management may calculate Stelter is not worth the headache. Zucker probably would.