A reporter for The Atlantic denied a report that he tricked former CNN CEO Chris Licht into trashing his predecessor Jeff Zucker’s physical prowess while working out at the gym — an embarrassing passage in his explosive magazine profile that ultimately spurred Licht’s dismissal.
A Variety exposé published late Tuesday claimed that Atlantic reporter Tim Alberta baited Licht into mocking Zucker during an interview in which the CNN honcho was working out in the gym with his personal trainer.
“Zucker couldn’t do this sh-t,” Licht was quoted as saying in the piece as he reportedly performed squats with heavy weights.
According to Variety, which cited two anonymous sources, the line had first been uttered at the gym by Alberta as he looked on, and was a phrase that Licht “merely repeated” as he pumped iron during the interview.
The suggestion that the quote was fed to Licht, however, was dismissed by Alberta in a Wednesday tweetstorm in which he slammed Tatiana Siegel, the reporter behind the Variety piece.
“I had never met Zucker. I had no insight into Zucker’s lifestyle. I had not, to that point, brought Zucker up in any of our interviews. The gym wasn’t my idea. It was Licht’s idea — 6 o’clock in the morning. So… on what planet does it make sense that *I* would blurt this out?
Pointing to the tweet, one insider noted that Alberta didn’t outright deny that he prompted Licht.
“He baited Licht on the squat thing. He said, ‘I bet Zucker couldn’t do that sh-t,’” the source said.
The source likewise echoed claims in Siegel’s story that Licht and his communications team were surprised by the quote, and that Alberta hadn’t told them it would be part of the story.
But Alberta, a respected reporter, shot back on Twitter that The Atlantic’s fact-checkers “reviewed all notes and recordings,” and that they “verified everything” in the story and gave Licht opportunity to respond.
“Credulously laundering false background claims without seeking specific responses… is not journalism,” the journalist wrote.
Variety and Siegel did not immediatly return requests for comment.
Since publication, Variety has stood by Siegel’s reporting, telling CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy on Tuesday: “Variety stands by our investigative story about CNN written by one of the best journalists in the business.”
Alberta’s scathing profile on Licht, published June 2, revealed a network in turmoil under Licht, who was trying to move the left-leaning network more to the center while also winning over a newsroom of Zucker loyalists.
Five days later, Licht was ousted from CNN with sources telling The Post at the time that the magazine profile was the last straw in a series of missteps during the exec’s short, 13-month tenure.
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