CNN anchors mourn loss of Jeff Zucker: ‘We don’t understand why the death penalty was necessary’

Dylan Byers has been covering the inside story of CNN employees who are grieving the sudden loss of Jeff Zucker. Today, Byers reports WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar held another meeting during which top anchors vented and lashed out at him for his handling of Zucker’s firing/resignation. A standout at the hour-long meeting was Alisyn Camerota who compared Zucker’s being fired to the death penalty and suggested it was creating mental health problems for her.

Many spoke in grave terms, emphasizing their own grieving process, and in heavy-handed metaphors. “I think that what you’re hearing, and what we’re all experiencing, is just a huge shockwave to all of our mental health,” Alisyn Camerota, the CNN host, said during one of the most poignant moments of the meeting. “This has been incredibly destabilizing and unsettling. One of the secrets to mental health is understanding, and the way that happens is getting some answers and some closure. And we don’t have that. We don’t understand why the death penalty was necessary.”…

She also mentioned that she had looked at Kilar’s social media accounts recently: “On your Twitter and Instagram profile, you describe yourself as a ‘big believer in the power of innovation and empathy,” she said. “If you could just explain how empathy plays into this?”

CNN’s senior VP of programming, Jim Murphy, suggested that employees should be protected to some degree on the basis of how much money they’ve made for the company. He said he’d been told this by the former CEO of Disney:

Murphy said he once had a conversation with Bob Iger, the legendary former C.E.O. of Disney, “about some abhorrent behavior at ABC, and his response to me when I said, ‘Well, how can people put up with these behaviors?’ was, ‘Well, they’re big earners. We protect big earners.’” Should Kilar have done the same with Zucker, he asked, “because as Dana [Bash] said in Washington, it doesn’t feel like the punishment fits the crime.

Kilar rejected the idea that people’s behavior should be judged on a curve depending on how much they make for the business. And Dylan Byers contacted Bob Iger who denied ever saying such a thing in the first place. Still, it’s interesting that the VP of programming thinks maybe that’s how it ought to work.

The other really interesting tidbit in this story involves Don Lemon. You probably recall that Lemon and fired anchor Chris Cuomo had a nightly schtick in which they would spend a few minutes during the handover between shows talking about the topics of the day. They often seemed friendly even if they didn’t agree. But maybe that was all an act? Today, Lemon threw Cuomo under the bus. Lemon asked whether Cuomo would in fact be getting any severance and suggested Cuomo didn’t deserve any after violating “journalistic standards.”

“Did you think about what message it sends to the journalists in this company, and also to the larger company, that someone can break with those journalistic standards and get paid handsomely for it,” Lemon asked. “And what is to stop the next person from doing the same thing, and possibly getting compensated for it by saying, ‘Hey I’m going to spread rumors if you don’t give me this amount of money.’”

He’s referring to reports, including from CNN, that Cuomo threatened to sue the network over his severance and that his lawsuit included multiple references to Zucker and “incriminating information” about him. Later reports suggested the incriminating information might be about Zucker’s closeness to Andrew Cuomo, i.e. that Zucker was personally involved in giving advice to Cuomo about his 2020 COVID briefings.

But Don Lemon dismisses those claims as just “rumors” designed to help Cuomo get his severance. How does Lemon know they’re just rumors? Presumably, Chris Cuomo would know more about Zucker’s interactions with his brother Andrew than Don Lemon would. Maybe what he’s claiming really did happen. That would certainly explain why a) CNN pulled the plug on Zucker so abruptly and b) why they were reportedly considering a $9 million settlement with Cuomo last week.

Anyway, Dylan Byers’ report of this meeting is more interesting than anything CNN has run in primetime recently. They should film these convos and put them on the air.

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