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Variety has a mess on its hands.
One day after publishing a questionable 4,000-word story that aimed to detail the behind-the-scenes drama that has gripped CNN for the last 18 months, the Hollywood trade publication is being met with calls for it to issue corrections to the piece, if not a retraction altogether.
Former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, The Atlantic journalist Tim Alberta, and Puck Editor-In-Chief Jon Kelly have all called for the outlet to publicly correct the record. But, thus far, Variety has resisted taking any such action, outside quietly removing the widely panned Tatiana Siegel-written feature from its online homepage.
The outlet’s deafening silence comes as the piece begins to fall apart in public. Alberta, who found himself sucked into Siegel’s story due to his role authoring a devastating profile of former CNN boss Chris Licht, posted on-the-record responses to key assertions made in the report, refuting multiple aspects of the article that impugned his integrity.
“If [Variety] had real editorial standards this piece never, ever would have published,” Alberta tweeted. “A retraction is probably in order, but I doubt they have the stomach for it.”
Meanwhile, Byers, the relentless Puck scribe known for breaking news about CNN, who was unfairly maligned as a Zucker shill in Siegel’s story, reported Wednesday night that the opening anecdote — which struck many observers as preposterous — was simply false.
As Siegel told it in her story, Zucker, with “tears in his eyes,” ran into Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav in a Miami hotel lobby in March, where he complained about being unfairly attacked in the press by his successor Licht. But Byers, who looked into the matter, wrote: “In fact, there was no such run-in at the hotel, because the two parties connected by phone beforehand and agreed to meet privately at one of the hotel’s private cabanas.”
“From the opening sentence,” Byers observed, “the story seemed problematic and riddled with factual inaccuracies.”
The errors on the smaller details throw into question the larger story that Siegel weaved together, which portrayed Zucker, who was ousted from CNN in 2022 over an undisclosed consensual office relationship, as a bitter man singularly consumed with aspirations to purchase CNN in an act of revenge — even if it apparently meant imploring a Russian oligarch for funds to secure the necessary capital for the effort. (It goes without saying that Zucker’s camp denied to Siegel that this ever happened, but she printed it anyway.)
The errors also raise serious questions about the editorial process at Variety that allowed Siegel’s feature to be published, and for more than 24 hours since the article appeared online, has elicited no real response to the very real problems that have been raised about the story with the magazine’s highest leadership.
As The Wrap’s Natalie Korach first reported Wednesday night, Zucker’s team appealed to co-editor-in-chiefs, Ramin Setoodeh and Cynthia Littleton, about Siegel’s story to no avail. Zucker, who through a spokesperson has firmly denied key details that Siegel included in her piece, has been “baffled” by the claims, Korach reported.
After appeals made to Setoodeh and Littleton resulted in no apparent action, Zucker’s team contacted Variety’s parent company, Penske Media Corporation, with a request for a retraction. A PMC spokesperson did not immediately respond to my request for comment Wednesday evening, but the appeal has thus far not prompted any noticeable action by the company.
Separately, Byers reported that Kelly, Puck’s top editor, “sent an email to the author and the editors of the Variety piece on Tuesday outlining demonstrably false claims about my reporting and seeking corrections.” And Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, told me in a scathing on-the-record statement Tuesday that the prominent magazine had “on numerous occasions … made it clear” to Variety that “they were planning to publish countless anecdotes and alleged incidents that never happened.” Goldberg added that Variety “did so anyway.”
Ultimately, Variety may never concede any errors. But failing to address the mounting questions threatens to leave a stain on the outlet that will not be easily removed.