CNN personalities have spent much of the last week mourning the loss of beloved, ousted boss Jeff Zucker, with nonstop praise of their former leader despite years of scandal and ratings issues that has onlookers questioning the “disturbing” hero worship.
“Zucker is very loyal to his staff and charismatic. That’s one reason he’s gotten so far despite badly failing at NBC … He’s a disaster everywhere he goes,” a media industry veteran who has worked with Zucker told Fox News Digital.
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Zucker, who was beloved by many CNN underlings who often referred to him simply as “JZ,” was also adored by CNN’s on-air personalities. Some CNN staffers loved the way he defended the liberal network against regular claims by former-President Trump that it was “fake news.”
Zucker rose to fame as a producer for the Matt Lauer-era “Today” before rising up the ranks to eventually become CEO of NBCUniversal, but the sparkle of his morning show success quickly dimmed.
While serving as an NBC executive, Zucker was blamed for botching the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno debacle surrounding “The Tonight Show” and failed to replace popular programs such as “Friends and “ER.” As a result, the network took a ratings nosedive that the Los Angeles Times once labeled the “implosion of NBC’s prime time.”
“Zucker was embarrassingly proud that he kept managing for margins, not programming for ratings. So NBC eventually stood for Nothing But Crap,” famed entertainment reporter Nikki Finke wrote in 2010. “Each time he made an error in judgment, which seemed like all the time, he never paid a price for his mistakes, which made ‘Zucked’ and ‘Zuckered’ part of the media lexicon.”
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Zucker was fired in 2010 and eventually landed at CNN in 2013, where he oversaw the network shift away from founder Ted Turner’s just-the-facts approach to journalism until he was forced out on Wednesday.
CNN publicly claimed Zucker resigned after failing to disclose a consensual sexual relationship with colleague Allison Gollust, which raised eyebrows as their relationship was considered an “open secret” in the media industry. His outing came following a disastrous January that saw the network shed 74% of its audience from a year ago, while network parent WarnerMedia prepares to close a long-planned merger with Discovery.
His sudden departure shocked CNN – one insider told Fox News Digital it was “bulls–t” he had to leave the way he did. Now, those left at the network are trying to pick up the pieces.
“Zucker will be remembered mostly for driving a once proud news organization down an ideological ravine, willing to sacrifice traditional journalism standards to make socio-political initiatives,” DePauw university professor and media Jeffrey McCall told Fox News Digital.
Zucker’s time at CNN was also plagued with scandals and controversies, ranging from Jeffrey Toobin being welcomed back following a masturbation scandal to the years-long saga surrounding Chris Cuomo and his involvement in his brother Andrew Cuomo’s political operations. In addition, two CNN producers have been recently ousted from the network after being swept up in separate criminal investigations involving alleged sex crimes with minors. But none of the negative attention seems to bother Zucker’s CNN loyalists.
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In recent days, an emotional Alisyn Camerota called it an “incredible loss,” saying “Jeff is a remarkable person and incredible leader” with an “uncanny” ability to make everyone feel valuable. Media correspondent Brian Stelter has fawned over Zucker at every turn and called his departure a “seismic moment” because he is “a singular figure in American media,” and Fareed Zakaria called him the network’s cheerleader-in-chief.”
Stelter also said many staffers are “confused” and “angry,” while an emotional Don Lemon told viewers on Friday CNN was “heartbroken because we lost our leader.”
“We lost the man who was the backbone, the glue and the spirit of this company,” Lemon said. “It has been hard to come into work this week, not only for me but for so many of us here at CNN.”
The eulogizing of Zucker has occurred off-air, too.
Angry Washington bureau staffers confronted WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar during a heated meeting last week. CNN personalities including Kaitlin Collins, Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta and Dana Bash spoke out in defense of their ousted boss.
The confrontational meeting was followed up by a somber Thursday morning call in which Zucker was showered with praise by CNN’s interim leader who urged the network to honor his legacy.
“I’ve heard Jeff described in the last day as our North Star, and as the captain of our ship, the ship that he’s been building for the last nine years. He’s been … both our guide and our protector in the many storms that we’ve faced,” Michael Bass, one of CNN’s interim leaders, told staffers.
“We will miss him, so much. I know we will, I will tell you because I know people are worried and concerned, and I’m just going to be honest, you can’t replace Jeff. It’s not possible,” Bass continued. “The best thing we can do is honor his legacy and continue his mission to do great journalism, great enterprise, cover breaking news as best we can, defend democracy, honor truth and facts, do what we do.”
Tapper reportedly had a “shiva-like get together at his home in Washington for bereaved colleagues,” referring to the Jewish mourning period for recently deceased loved ones.
Feelings didn’t subside over the weekend and Kilar was reportedly scolded by New York-based CNN employees on Monday. “We’re grieving,” anchor Erin Burnett said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck, who monitors CNN to expose liberal bias in the media, said it feels like Zucker died.
“If we’ve learned anything over the past week, it’s that CNN is not only a cult, but a cult of maniacal proportions,” Houck told Fox News Digital.
“Initially, one could argue the accolades for Zucker were a combination of fear about what he can still do to people and true hero worship, but it quickly became evident that it was entirely the latter,” Houck continued. “This religious infatuation and eulogizing of Zucker – even though he’s still alive – are disturbing.”
Stelter, who has served as a quasi-spokesperson for the network after being dispatched to break the news to CNN viewers, has echoed Bass’ sentiment that the network should continue with Zucker’s approach.
“If this desire to continue on as Zucker would want them to with divisive rhetoric toward non-Democrats and an obsession with Trump and Russia, CNN will only continue to decline and truly become unsalvageable as a news organization,” Houck said.
McCall, a frequent critic of CNN, has been shocked that so many high-profile anchors have been visibly disturbed by the dismissal of their boss to an audience that is supposed to tune in for news coverage.
“CNN’s leadership problems just aren’t that interesting to most viewers, even the loyal CNN followers. It is generally a bad thing when a news organization is actually in the news, and this is surely the case for a top executive such as Zucker who got the gate,” McCall said. “When CNN’s on-air personnel bring up their departed former leader, they show a tin ear to the rhetorical situation and unnecessarily remind the audience of the turmoil in the organization.”
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The behavior of CNN anchors and reporters also surprised The Hollywood Reporter editor-at-large Kim Masters, who penned a pieced, “Zucker’s defenders aren’t helping the network,” scolding journalists for publicly objecting to his ousting.
“Journalists are supposed to be skeptical, to consider that there may be facts they don’t know. Sometimes they have to confront facts that they do know but don’t like. And though it was clearly an emotional day at CNN, journalists are supposed to keep their cool, even in the midst of war,” Masters wrote.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and Cortney O’Brien contributed this report.
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