CNN is at the center of its own scandal with its two most senior executives — who made the decision to fire star anchor Chris Cuomo — accused of having a tawdry marriage ending affair.
Multiple sources have confirmed CNN President Jeff Zucker and Allison Gollust, the cable giant’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, have been involved in a clandestine romance dating back years.
Those sources, including individuals from inside his own network, refused to comment on the record for fear of reprisal.
But the emergence of the allegations is a major complexifier in the decision to dump Cuomo, who is said to have hired high-powered lawyer Bryan Freedman to fight for an $18 million exit paycheck, believed to be the remainder of his contract.
CNN is understood to be refusing to pay out Cuomo because he was fired with cause.
The network's contracts allegedly have a morality clause that entitles it to fire anyone who sullies its reputation.
“The talk in the corridors of CNN about Jeff and Allison’s purported relationship complicates the sticky decision to fire Chris,” said one highly placed source. “Have they sullied the network’s reputation? One could argue they have; it just hasn’t been made public yet.”
It also calls into question the hypocrisy of Zucker and Gollust who initially stood by Cuomo when it emerged he rushed to the aid of his embattled brother, the former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Gollust, a veteran public relations expert, once worked as the Democratic lawmaker’s communications director, and rumor mongers inside CNN HQ told Radar that her past job with Cuomo and claims of a romantic relationship raise questions about why Zucker initially protected the embattled brothers.
The alleged affair is said to have begun while the pair were both married: Zucker to wife Caryn and Gollust to husband Billy.
Five years after Gollust joined CNN, Zucker announced he and his wife had split after 21 years of marriage. It was said they had simply “grown apart” and the marriage had been dead for 10 years.
New York court records, obtained by Radar, also reveal Gollust split from the father of her two children nearly 12 months earlier.
CNN, Zucker, and Gollust have repeatedly refused to comment on the alleged romance when contacted by Radar over a period of several months.
During that time, a friend of Zucker warned this website against publishing: “He’s too powerful and holds grudges. Everyone knows about it in business, and he’s persuaded people to avoid it.”
But the link to the Cuomo scandal and its potential ramifications for CNN ratcheted up the significance of the story in recent weeks.
What’s more, Jack Elbaum photographed the pair together sitting next to each other at a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden, suggesting the duo is still going strong.
Though the pair sat arm to arm, also at the gig we’re anchors Don Lemon (seen above right) and Fareed Zakaria.
Katie Couric, who had Zucker as her Executive Producer at The TODAY Show and later her daytime talk show, hinted at the closeness of the pair’s romance in her recent book “Going There.”
“At a certain point, Jeff made a huge push to bring on Allison Gollust (to her daytime television show),” she wrote.
“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 recounted how Zucker made her meet with Gollust anyway.
She 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 (Zucker’s ex-wife) had become a close friend and it made me really uncomfortable.”
Couric, who refused to hire Gollust, went on to lament being overlooked for a job at CNN despite pushing, behind-the-scenes, for Zucker to get the gig.
“His first hire? Allison Gollust. Oh, and I never did hear from him about that job.”
Legal sources have told Radar that if Cuomo were to sue, he could subpoena Couric to provide evidence in support of his claim that Zucker and Gollust had already sullied CNN’s reputation.
After an independent investigation found Chris’ brother Andrew had sexually harassed 11 women in the workplace — including touching their “intimate body parts” without consent — it emerged that the younger sibling Chris, CNN's highest-rated host, had formally advised his brother on how to respond to the scandal.
When further details emerged about the extent of his involvement in helping Andrew, Chris was suspended “indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”
Then it emerged he’d tried to dig up dirt on at least one of the Governor’s accusers, and he was fired.
“CNN has a real ethical problem on its hands,” a source told Radar.
The CNN insider was adamant that Chris had initially escaped punishment for his role in advising his brother over his scandal because of Gollust's influence on Zucker – and her own connections to the Cuomo machine.
"Allison runs the show; she is the number two to Jeff,” said the well-placed informant.
“One of the reasons why CNN failed to take swift disciplinary action against Chris Cuomo, is because of the relationship Allison has with Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“The fact that the upper management at CNN, starting with Jeff as the network’s president, never disciplined Chris in the first instance for his taking a hand in guiding his governor brother through the scandals begs the question: Did Zucker and Gollust have a colossal conflict of interest that sparked their inaction?”
That serious ethical question goes to the heart about the impartiality of CNN’s top brass: Was Gollust’s ascent from public relations advisor at CNN to a key editorial decision-maker the result of her special affiliation with Zucker?
Gollust joined CNN in 2013 after leaving NBC, where she and Zucker had worked together for 15 years.
At the time, Zucker couldn’t hide his admiration for his co-worker: “In the 15 years that Allison and I have worked together, I’ve depended on her judgment, counsel, and relationships,” he said.
It is not known if Zucker and Gollust disclosed their chumminess to their bosses at AT&T, CNN's parent company, when they were hired, or their new bosses at Discovery.
Zucker and Gollust have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep their private lives secret, even though it’s been a hot topic amongst the television industry.
At one point, Radar has been told Gollust had the network’s frantic press office create accounts with all the major paparazzi agencies to search for any potential images of them together.
They weren’t entirely paranoid: Radar has learned one media outlet was so hot on their trail, it commissioned photographers to tail the two cable heavyweights—who just happened to live in the same luxury apartment building, albeit in separate apartments.
In 2019, Gollust threw a 54th birthday for Zucker that was attended by disgraced former TODAY show host Matt Lauer at Manhattan's McKittrick Hotel.
Zucker and Gollust also infamously had a screaming match at The Hollywood Reporter’s “35 Most Powerful People in New York Media” party in 2017.
At the time, Page Six reported Gollust was said to have begun “speaking intensely and making anguished hand gestures before she strode purposefully away into the crowd.
CNN downplayed the incident, saying it wasn’t a fight between the pair; but rather, that it had to do with business that spilled over from the office.
However, another source noted: “It looked like she was reprimanding her husband or something!”
Now, years later, the heat is on for Zucker and Gollust to fess up about their affair – and how it may have created conflicts of interest at their workplace.
On its own website, CNN wrote in 2019: “In today’s corporate world, especially in the wake of #MeToo, boards are on high alert for anything that poses a reputational or financial risk to the company.” It added, “Being in a relationship with the boss will make others at the company suspect that favoritism is at play. And that will undercut the employee’s professional accomplishments and reputation.”
The story also quoted a Human Resources expert, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., who said, “It also undermines the idea of meritocracy and the idea that everyone has a fair shot."
Of course, Zucker is hardly the first high-profile television individual who has been accused of having an inter-office fling: David Letterman admitted to having sex with female staff members, and Lauer was said to have had an affair with another on-air host (that, aside from the darker allegations of sexual assault that women have made against him). Plus, Fox News’s Jesse Watters had an adulterous relationship with Emma DiGiovine, an associate producer at the network. (He married her in 2019.)