CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker denied Tuesday that he would be resigning imminently from his position at CNN, despite rumors fueled by President Trump. During a conversation at USC Annenberg, Zucker stopped short of saying he would accept a position as CEO at CNN parent WarnerMedia.
The conversation was moderated by USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay and covered a breadth of tough topics including Zucker’s proximity to former “Today” show host Matt Lauer at NBC.
These rumors of Zucker’s resignation began with an Oct. 15 tweet from President Trump saying Zucker would “be resigning momentarily.” Zucker forcefully denied that statement in the conversation with Bay.
“So the president tweeted two weeks ago that I was resigning,” said Zucker. “I’m not resigning — that was actually fake news. So there’s no truth to that.”
Zucker was much less clear in denying that he was considering the WarnerMedia position.
“There’s been speculation that I might take a new role in WarnerMedia,” said Zucker. “Here’s the way I think about that: There were all kinds of rumors a couple of years ago that I was going to be fired from CNN because that’s what Donald Trump wanted. I didn’t believe those rumors at that time, and I didn’t pay attention to those rumors at that time. So I don’t believe these rumors at this time and I don’t pay attention to them now. That is my way of saying — "
“Not answering,” interjected Bay.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” finished Zucker. “We’ll see what happens.”
Before working at CNN, Zucker was a leading executive at NBC Universal. He was the executive producer of the network’s “Today” show until 2000 and became the company’s chief executive in 2005.
Zucker worked at NBC during the same period as Matt Lauer, who was the host of the “Today” show from 1997 to 2017. Lauer was fired by NBC in November 2017 after allegations of sexual assault were made against him by a colleague.
Lauer has denied the accusation and others that have followed. He has said the interactions were consensual.
Bay asked Zucker to address how these allegations affect his credibility in CNN’s newsroom.
“For those of us of a certain age, who lived through very different eras in the newsroom, and you in particular for having been, at NBC, friend and boss of Matt Lauer, do you face a credibility gap or a trust gap in leading a newsroom where you are setting new standards and new protocols?” asked Bay.
“I don’t think so. I think that my record has spoken for itself on this issue," said Zucker. “I ran the ‘Today’ show [until] 2000. Matt came on the ‘Today’ show in ‘97. Just because I ran the ‘Today’ show does not mean that I was either aware of any of that behavior or allowed any of that behavior.
"That would be like saying that I should be aware of the behavior of all 4,000 employees that I have at CNN today. I take big pride in the fact that people know what is expected of them and what I will tolerate. ... I feel very comfortable and confident that I was never aware of any of that behavior or ever brought to my attention, so I don’t worry about any credibility gap on my part.”
Bay followed up asking Zucker if the media industry has become a place “free from harassment, discrimination." She added that her own institution, USC, is currently struggling with similar problems.
“Nothing is ever perfect, right?" said Zucker. "We should expect perfection, but I don’t think that we can expect that it’s ever going to be perfect. All we can do is set the expectations, demand them, and work towards them. Do I think that any of us or any of our organizations is perfect? No, of course not. ... But do I think that there is a renewed and different set of expectations today that everybody here and elsewhere should expect? I do ... and I think that’s a good thing.”
In an interview after the event, Bay commented on why it is important for news organizations to have high standards when it comes to workplace culture.
“It’s clear that students, journalists of your generation, have very different expectations of what is a safe, appropriate, fair workplace,” said Bay. “And they expect that we have the people, the policies and protocols in place, at all of our organizations to make sure that those are all upheld.”
She also gave advice on evaluating organizations for students:
“I think it’s a critical question to ask of any organization that you’re going to work — news organizations or otherwise — is this the kind of place where I’m going to be treated fairly with respect and be given the same opportunities for professional development as anybody else here?”