Jeff Zucker’s folly comes to an end as Discovery pulls the plug on CNN+

Imagine a newspaper that required you to be a paid subscriber to the print edition if you wanted to read the paper online, and that you had to pay an additional fee for that privilege. If you weren’t a print subscriber, you wouldn’t be able to read the paper on the website, even though you were paying for digital. The only online content you’d be able to access would be repurposed programs and lite features. Needless to say, no one would sign up for such a terrible service.

Well, that’s exactly what CNN+ is. Or was. The New York Times reports that the network’s incoming owner, Warner Bros. Discovery, has pulled the plug on the weeks-old service. I’m surprised. I thought this would drag on for at least a few months. But I guess the decision was made to close it immediately rather than wait for the inevitable.

Cord-cutting is real, and CNN — like all content providers dependent on cable — needs to find a way to respond. This wasn’t it. Nice going, Jeff Zucker. I’m sure Discovery isn’t going to give up on coming up with a post-cable strategy for CNN. Wiping the slate clean was necessary for that.

One positive development coming out of this fiasco is that the new owners are reportedly planning to slot an actual newscast at 9 p.m., the old Chris Cuomo hour, according to Sara Fischer of Axios. Perhaps the anchor will be Audie Cornish, lured away from NPR to be a key part of CNN+.

Drip, drip, drip

Then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo (cc) 2014 by Diana Robinson.

Tatiana Siegel reports in Rolling Stone that Jeff Zucker and Allison Gollust may have been advising Andrew Cuomo at the same time that Chris Cuomo was driving his own career into a ditch by doing more or less the same thing. She indirectly quotes a source familiar with the workings of an investigation into Chris Cuomo’s behavior:

The source says the investigation suggests Zucker and Gollust were advising the governor at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in ways not dissimilar to what led to Chris Cuomo’s dismissal. As Andrew sparred on a daily basis with then-President Trump over Covid messaging, the couple provided the governor with talking points on how to respond to the president’s criticisms of the New York crisis. They also booked the governor to appear on the network exclusively, which became a ratings boon for CNN, with Chris Cuomo doing the interviewing. Cuomo and Gollust’s conduct, too, would appear to mark an ethical breach for executives acting on behalf of an impartial news outlet.

The source does not appear to be claiming that Zucker and Gollust were advising Andrew Cuomo on how to handle the sexual-harassment allegations that eventually led to his resignation as governor; that came later. Still, the behavior described by the source is wildly inappropriate. Much more to come, no doubt.

Scandal aside, Zucker gave us Trump and presided over a ratings collapse at CNN

Jeff Zucker. Photo (cc) 2013 by Fortune Live Media.

Something doesn’t make sense about Jeff Zucker’s sudden departure from CNN. He and his paramour, CNN executive vice president Allison Gollust, are consenting adults, and they’re both divorced.

There was an aha! moment Wednesday when we learned that Gollust had previously worked as Andrew Cuomo’s communications director. But that turned out to be a brief stint a decade ago. Maybe leadership concluded that Zucker had put them in an untenable position with regard to Chris Cuomo’s legal case against CNN. Or maybe Chris has something else up his sleeve. I suspect we’re going to find out more.

Meanwhile, let’s look at the record. Zucker is widely seen as a successful chief executive of CNN, well-liked by the troops. But what exactly were his accomplishments? He rode a Trump-driven rise in the ratings, the same as everyone else; ratings have collapsed since the end of the Trump presidency. Zucker accomplished little journalistically, especially in prime time, which has devolved into three hours of liberal talk shows that are not as good as those on MSNBC. Anderson Cooper, a significant asset, is badly misused.

More than anything, though, Zucker is the man who morphed Donald Trump from a failed real-estate developer into a media star, first through “The Apprentice” and then by giving him hours and hours of free air time during the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s all Trump all the time for Zucker, whether he’s for him or against him. And that’s the oxygen upon which Trump thrives.

What’s next for CNN? Its digital-streaming service, CNN+, debuts soon, and unless you think the public has been drooling with anticipation at the prospect of paying for CNN Lite, it has all the hallmarks of a disaster in the making.

My advice is to try reporting the news — especially during the key 8-to-11 p.m. time slot. Sadly, I’m sure that will go unheeded.

Please support this free source of news and commentary by becoming a member for just $5 a month.

Questions remain after the fall of the House of Cuomo

I’ve heard three questions come up since CNN suspended, then fired, Chris Cuomo for his inappropriate involvement in his brother Andrew’s defense against charges that he’d sexually harassed and assaulted women. I don’t know the answers to any of them. But they’re worth framing as we think about the extraordinary events of the past week.

1. Why did it take so long for CNN to act? The original bad actor in all of this was CNN head Jeff Zucker, who allowed Chris to host Andrew on his show when Andrew, as governor of New York, was winning widespread praise for how he had handled the early stages of the COVID pandemic.

It may have struck many people at the time as a harmless diversion during a very dark period. You may recall that Chris himself contracted the virus. But it was unethical, and in the months to come we learned just how unethical. Remember, Andrew ended up being accused not just of groping women but of grossly mismanaging the pandemic as well.

Then the drip, drip, drip started, as we learned that Chris had advised his brother and taken part in meetings as the sexual-misconduct scandal became increasingly serious. Zucker may have worried that suspending or firing one of his stars would have only called attention to his own role, so he let it go.

The revelations that were reported last week, though, weren’t just more but were also different. They showed that Chris had abused his position by, for instance, trying to find out what stories other journalists were working on. This went way beyond anything Zucker could have reasonably foreseen, and thus may have given him the freedom he needed to do what he should have done earlier.

No doubt Zucker’s hand was strengthened further when Chris Cuomo was hit during the past few days with a sexual misconduct allegation of his own — his second.

2. What about Sean Hannity? I’ve heard a number of people ask why Chris Cuomo has to go when Fox News did nothing about Hannity’s close relationship with Donald Trump. To which I can only respond that Fox, notwithstanding good work by a few of its journalists, is not really a news operation. It’s a propaganda outlet whose stock in trade is lies and ginned-up culture-war stories about issues such as race and the evils of vaccinations.

CNN is not what it used to be, and I’m not a fan of its prime-time line-up of opinionated talk shows. But it’s good to see that management still cares enough about the network’s reputation that it’s not going to stand for a host who breaks all journalistic boundaries — even if he didn’t do much journalism on the air. To imagine that Fox News would take similar action is to believe that Fox and CNN are in the same business. They’re not.

And wouldn’t it be great if CNN ultimately decides to replace Cuomo’s 9 p.m. talk show with an actual newscast? I’m not holding my breath.

3. What about Jeffrey Toobin? You may recall that CNN suspended Toobin as its legal analyst after he was caught pleasuring himself during a Zoom meeting. Many observers were surprised when the network took him back eight months later.

I’m not sure what that was about except to note that the incident took place during a New Yorker staff meeting, where Toobin was a writer. The New Yorker fired Toobin and shows no signs of being willing to take him back. CNN may have figured that it would be unfair to banish Toobin permanently for something he did for another employer. Still, it’s hard to watch Toobin without going “ewww.” And I say that as someone who liked his work both at The New Yorker and on CNN.

Finally: What an extraordinary downfall for the House of Cuomo. I revered their father, Mario; long before 2020, though, I was aware of Andrew’s thuggish reputation as governor. Chris struck me as an amiable lightweight. Scandals like this have a human dimension that can’t be overlooked. Andrew and Chris got what they deserved — but I feel bad for their mother, Matilda, who, at 90, is still very much with us.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month.

Chris Cuomo has left the building

From Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter of CNN:

CNN said Tuesday that it has suspended Chris Cuomo “indefinitely” after new documents released this week indicated that the anchor was more intimately involved than previously known in helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, craft a defense amid a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations.

I can’t imagine Cuomo will be back, but who knows?

Earlier: CNN needs to punish Chris Cuomo severely — and to consider firing him

CNN needs to punish Chris Cuomo severely — and to consider firing him

Chris Cuomo

I’ve been defending CNN’s Chris Cuomo ever since we learned that he had been advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, about how to respond to allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

It’s not that I like his program especially; I don’t. It’s that the misguided decision to let Chris host Andrew during the early days of the COVID pandemic was more a failing by management than it was something that could be blamed on Chris, and that it wasn’t fair to criticize him for acting like a brother.

No more. Monday’s revelations show that Chris Cuomo went beyond giving his brother advice, and even went beyond strategizing with other members of Andrew Cuomo’s team. According to the newly released documents, Chris Cuomo abused his position at CNN, and for that he needs to pay a steep price — maybe a long suspension, maybe termination.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month!

“How in the world does Chris Cuomo survive this?” asks Tom Jones of Poynter, taking note of the sordid details:

According to documents released Monday by the New York attorney general’s office, Chris used his media sources to seek out information about women who accused his brother of sexual misconduct. He then relayed some of that information to his brother’s top advisers.

Writing in The Atlantic, David A. Graham — who believes that Chris Cuomo should resign or be fired — offered this:

When Chris Cuomo simply offered advice to staff members, he failed to observe the rules CNN had set for his private behavior. But by gathering information from “sources” and passing it to his brother’s staff, Cuomo committed the more egregious step of directly mixing the journalistic work of calling sources and gathering information with his personal, familial commitments. He was wise not to go further into the realm of “oppo research” [something Chris told investigators he did not do], but he still went far beyond the bounds of propriety.

Chris Cuomo hosts an opinionated talk show that is only peripherally tied to journalism. But as Graham notes, he does, in fact, act as a journalist, and people are going to return his calls when he tells them that he’s working on a story. His behavior violated multiple rules of “The Elements of Journalism,” including reporting the truth, maintaining independence from those we cover and serving as an independent monitor of power.

I tuned in Cuomo’s show Monday at 9 p.m. to see whether he’d be on and if he’d address it. There he was, but he made no mention of the revelations — not at the beginning, not at the end.

I’ll give him this much — he seemed every bit his normal self, even though he had to know his career was hanging in the balance.

CNN seems to be taking the new allegations seriously. “The thousands of pages of additional transcripts and exhibits that were released today by the NY Attorney General deserve a thorough review and consideration,” CNN said in a statement. “We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days.”

The next step is to act. I doubt that we’ll see Chris Cuomo in the anchor chair tonight. The question is whether we’ll ever see him there again — or should.

In which Mike Beaudet and I try to make sense of CNN’s Chris Cuomo problem

By Peter Ramjug

Chris Cuomo is expected to be back on the air at CNN this week. Questions still swirl around him following the resignation of his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the role the cable network star played in advising the governor through his political crisis and how the network will handle one of the biggest stories of the year going forward.

Cuomo will likely keep his job, say Northeastern journalism faculty experts Dan Kennedy and Mike Beaudet, even as media watchdog groups and others have called for him to step down or be fired for his involvement with the matter. They say network management and Chris Cuomo himself share blame for a “messy situation” that blurred personal and professional lines between the anchor and his embattled sibling.

Read the rest at News@Northeastern.