Variety Updates Story on Jeff Zucker, Former CNN President

The entertainment publication Variety, which faced criticism for an article about former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, has made revisions to the piece. Although the changes were made in response to complaints, they did not alter the content about Zucker. He has called for the story to be retracted.

The article by Tatiana Siegel, initially published on Tuesday, portrayed Zucker as speaking negatively about his successor at CNN, Chris Licht, while simultaneously attempting to buy the news organization that terminated his employment in 2021. Licht’s tenure at the struggling news network came to an end with his dismissal in May.

The controversy highlights the risks associated with journalists using anonymous sources. The story contains several claims that were not attributed to named sources and were subsequently denied on the record, leaving readers to determine their credibility.

Zucker’s spokesperson, Risa Heller, criticized Variety for publishing anecdotes and alleged incidents that, according to Zucker’s team, never happened. Heller stated that the piece is “patently and aggressively false.”

Co-editor-in-chiefs of Variety, Cynthia Littleton and Ramin Setoodeh, defended the story and the reporter’s work, stating that it underwent meticulous vetting and had multiple sources.

The article also criticized two reporters, Tim Alberta of The Atlantic and Dylan Byers of Puck, for alleged inaccuracies. After the revisions, Variety included the specific denials from these reporters and the news organizations they represent.

While Zucker’s team acknowledges a strained relationship with Licht, they vehemently denied any attempts to purchase CNN.

The article starts with an anecdote about Zucker meeting David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, and complaining about Licht’s negative portrayal of him in the press. Zucker’s team claims that the anecdote was never verified with them and some sources deny that the meeting ever took place.

The story outlines Zucker’s efforts, or those on his behalf, to persuade investors to join him in buying CNN. Zucker denied any involvement in purchasing the network, as did his spokesperson.

Variety also suggested the possibility that a secret group of investors was using Zucker’s name without his knowledge to approach Warner Bros. Discovery about buying CNN.

According to The New York Times, Zucker was not in talks to buy CNN, although he has expressed interest in acquiring the network if it were up for sale in the future.

Dylan Byers of Puck criticized Variety’s article, calling it “utterly implausible and sophomoric.” Variety responded by labeling Byers a former Zucker disciple and questioning his objectivity due to his past discussions about funding Puck.

Variety added statements from Puck’s co-founder, Jon Kelly, stating that Byers was unaware of the discussions held between RedBird and Puck.

The article also criticized Tim Alberta of The Atlantic, accused him of using material off the record, and mentioned a conflict of interest. Variety did not change what was written about Alberta, but included a paragraph that quoted Alberta’s denials and dispute over the number of times he met with Licht while reporting the story.

Variety reposted the revised article on its homepage, with a note at the end indicating the updates made.

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