CNN boss Jeff Zucker and his paramour Allison Gollust had an inappropriately close friendship with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — personally calling him to do news segments with his brother Chris Cuomo and even coaching him on what to say during his infamous COVID briefings, The Post has learned.
Gollust and Zucker — the latter of whom dramatically quit CNN Wednesday after their affair was exposed — also gave Andrew Cuomo endless positive coverage because of their relationship, sources said.
“While those 11:30 a.m. daily briefings by Andrew were across every network, they boosted ratings in a poorly performing slot for CNN,” one source said.
According to a source to Cuomo, “Zucker and Gollust even advised Andrew what to say — how to respond and particularly how to hit back at [President Donald] Trump to make it more compelling TV.
“No network head should be coaching an elected official,” the source added. “It’s absolutely the antithesis of CNN’s standards of business.”
Multiple insiders say the friendship between Andrew Cuomo and Zucker stretches back years — while Gollust was the disgraced governor’s head of communications, before joining CNN.
Since-fired anchor Chris Cuomo hosted his brother more than a dozen times on his primetime show, with some brotherly banter infused with simmering sibling rivalry.
Despite widespread criticism at the time, CNN denied it was a conflict of interest, telling the Washington Post, “We felt that Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest.”
A rep for Zucker said of the claim he gave Andrew Cuomo preferential treatment and coaching for his COVID press conferences, “This is 100% false. During a once in a lifetime pandemic when people were desperate for information, CNN and every other network took the briefings live. Jeff of course had a relationship with Andrew Cuomo, as he does with countless other electeds.”
Zucker was asked about his closeness to Andrew Cuomo by the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore which is in the process of doing an independent probe into Chris Cuomo’s efforts to help is governor brother battle sexual misconduct allegations.
Zucker was interviewed by the law firm last week, during which details of his affair with colleague Allison Gollust emerged, forcing him to step down from CNN. Sources said the two are still dating.
The ousted network boss is expected to face further questioning about his cozy relationship with Andrew if he is deposed in Chris Cuomo’s lawsuit against CNN over his firing.
CNN and Gollust didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Andrew Cuomo’s rep declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the Post also learned that Zucker and Gollust made personal calls to Andrew Cuomo in 2020, in a bid to lure the governor to make more flattering appearances on Chris Cuomo’s show.
Looking to keep Andrew Cuomo on his brother’s show and boost ratings even as controversy swirled around the puffy segments, Gollust personally called Cuomo and leaned on her “good relationship” with the governor, sources with direct knowledge told The Post.
Gollust also looked to capitalize on her ties with the governor’s top aide Melissa DeRosa, which she had cultivated years earlier when she briefly worked as Cuomo’s communications chief in 2012 and 2013, the source said.
An ex-Cuomo staffer told The Post that even after her departure from the governor’s office, Gollust and Cuomo “stayed friendly.”
“I got the sense she and the governor stayed friends,” the source said.
Zucker also directly reached out to Cuomo at least once to urge him to keep coming on his brother’s show, according to the source.
“They wanted more appearances,” the source said.
Gollust’s maneuverings involved going over the heads of Cuomo’s communications staff, most of whom had joined the governor’s office after Gollust had already left, according to the source.
Most of the comms staff at that time hadn’t worked with Allison,” the source said. “She was only there for four months and it was 150 years ago.”
“The governor and her had a good relationship,” the source added.
The secret lovers’ appeals came as the brothers’ buddy-buddy segments in the spring of 2020 boosted CNN’s ratings but attracted ethical scrutiny from pundits and media critics.
The “blowback” gave members of the now-disgraced governor’s team cold feet — and they considered booking fewer appearances with Chris Cuomo or pulling out of the interviews altogether, the source said.
A nursing home advocate accused Zucker and Gollust of helping Andrew Cuomo’s cover-up of COVID-19 nursing home deaths by urging the then-governor to appear on his brother’s show, where he got the softball treatment.
“The Cuomo brothers were shielded by CNN. We should call it the `Cuomo News Network,’” said Tracey Alvino, whose dad, Daniel, was infected with COVID-19 in a Long Island nursing home and later died.
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), a staunch critic of Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, said “this was a huge violation of journalistic ethics by CNN.”
“CNN gave Andrew Cuomo cover as a ‘COVID hero.’ They helped validate that narrative when his decisions should have been questioned,” Kim said.
A CNN rep said, “Booking newsmakers on television is always extremely competitive among networks and an all-hands-on-deck endeavour. Everyone at the news organization pitches in, especially in critical moments, such as the early days of the pandemic when the public was eager for real-time information from elected officials.”
A media insider added, “The Cuomos are desperate, isolated and clearly up to their old tricks anonymously smearing their enemies in the press.”
Chris Cuomo was fired from CNN in December over his involvement in his brother’s scandals. Since Cuomo was fired for violating company policies, CNN has argued that it doesn’t have to pay out the roughly $18 million Cuomo would have been owed over the remainder of his contract.
Cuomo’s lawyers have seized on Zucker’s affair — which also violates CNN policies — to argue that AT&T has selectively enforced its ethics rules and that Cuomo should be entitled to a payout, sources say.
Zucker has carefully crafted CNN as the “anti-Trump network” in a bid to improve its flagging ratings. The former president yesterday celebrated the news that Zucker was stepping down, calling him “a world-class sleazebag.”
Ironically, Chris Cuomo was fired by Zucker and Gollust after a review by an outside law firm concluded that Chris “had been much more deeply involved [in Andrew Cuomo’s issues] than we had ever known and than he’d ever told us, ” Zucker said on a call with CNN employees.
The network also lashed out in a statement about Chris, “He has made a number of accusations that are patently false. This reinforces why he was terminated for violating our standards and practices.”
Additional reporting by Carl Campanile and Bernadette Hogan