AP analysis: The real lesson from CNN scandal is to be honest about sleeping with underlings

Huh. And here I thought the lesson would be to not conspire with your paramour to turn your media outlet into a propaganda outlet for a leading politician. This analysis from AP Business yesterday strains so hard to miss the point that the name “Andrew Cuomo” never gets mentioned — not even in relation to his brother:

For all the potential peril of a workplace romance, the most common source of trouble, experts say, is allowing it to remain a secret.

A case in point was this week’s abrupt ouster of longtime CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker, who said he was ‘’wrong’’ in not being upfront with the network about a consensual relationship he was having with another executive.

Zucker only acknowledged his relationship with CNN chief marketing officer Allison Gollust after being questioned about it during an investigation of now-fired anchor Chris Cuomo. The executive shakeup comes at a pivotal moment for CNN, and prominent employees have expressed dismay that things weren’t handled differently.

Other than that, Mae Anderson wonders, what’s the big deal?

Zucker is hardly alone in finding love at the office. About a third of U.S. workers say they are in a workplace relationship or have been in one — and the trend has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic, according to trade association Society for Human Resource Management.

Most big corporations have a policy on workplace romance, but the majority of U.S. businesses do not, according to SHRM. Corporate policies can vary from forbidding all relationships to just those between managers and subordinates. Some simply require disclosure.

This goes along with the laments by CNN personnel about the unfairness of the “death penalty” meted out to Zucker. In a way, it’s reminiscent of the reaction to Bill Clinton’s scandal in the White House, making it about sex rather than committing perjury in a deposition to cover it up. It’s just as hypocritical too; at that time and now, sexual affairs in offices between executives and underlings were evidence of manipulation and corruption, except when committed by favored executives with the right political leanings.

If this was only about an undisclosed affair between Zucker and Gollust, it still would have violated corporate policy at Warner Media, and still would have been somewhat toxic to the work environment. Moreover, both Zucker and Gollust lied about the length of the relationship when it came to light, which also goes to credibility and leadership. But that’s not the only issue or even the most pressing issue in this scandal, no matter what the AP’s Anderson or other CNN figures claim. The real issue is how Zucker and Gollust, a former aide to Andrew Cuomo, conspired to turn Chris Cuomo’s show into a propaganda platform for Andrew and even provided coaching for him to make it successful.

New York Magazine’s Sarah Jones isn’t fooled by the spin, telling CNN staffers to chill out and smell the coffee. Or at least start reporting honestly about it:

The ostensible reason he got fired was that he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with Allison Gollust, a senior leader at the network who reported to him. The relationship was consensual, leading many within CNN to complain that he had been ousted unjustly or as part of a power struggle involving parent company WarnerMedia. As Puck, which has emerged as a clearinghouse for Zucker’s allies to vent their grievances, reported, chief political correspondent Dana Bash told WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, “For a lot of us, the feeling is that, for Jeff, the punishment didn’t fit the crime.”

But Gollust isn’t just CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. She also used to work for Andrew Cuomo, as his communications director. This casts CNN’s hagiographic coverage of the former governor of New York, which featured ex-anchor Chris Cuomo gleefully interviewing his own brother, in a rather compromised light — not something the network needs as it fends off a lawsuit from the younger Cuomo, who was fired for doling out advice to Andrew when he was dealing with a sexual harassment scandal. In fact, a source told Rolling Stone that Zucker and Gollust had advised Andrew Cuomo “at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in ways not dissimilar to what led to Chris Cuomo’s dismissal.”

CNN’s entanglement with the Cuomos is squarely on Zucker, and this now-soured relationship at least indirectly led to Zucker’s current troubles. But you wouldn’t know that from watching CNN, which has fallen back on the usual pundit-centered drama instead of actually reporting the news.

The actual news is that Zucker and Gollust sold out CNN airtime to a favored politician. It might be a little too much to expect from CNN to report that honestly. However, can we not expect other outlets like the AP to at least acknowledge the truth in their analyses, rather than pretend it’s just about sex?

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