Paula Zahn is moving to CNN after being fired by Fox News, it says, for breaching her contract with by negotiating a CNN deal.
Fox said it plans to file a lawsuit against Zahn's agency, N.S. Bienstock, and is considering legal action against Zahn and against CNN.
Executive Vice President Jack Abernethy said that "Fox News regards breach of contract as a serious and intolerable offense. We consider the acts of her representatives to be unscrupulous and her actions to be disloyal to the network." Zahn, formerly co-host host of CBS' morning show, has been part of the Fox weekday lineup, at 10 p.m., following Hannity & Colmes.
Dianne Brandi, vice president for legal affairs at Fox, said Zahn's contract ran until Feb, 28, 2002, and that Fox held a three-month right of first refusal on Zahn's services after that. Under that provision, Brandi said, Zahn could not shop around for a new position until March 1, and even then she'd be obligated to bring any offer to Fox to match until June 1.
In a statement, Bienstock denied any impropriety, and said that as Zahn's representatives, they "have acted with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity during this process. It is unfortunate that Fox News Channel chose to end its relationship with Ms. Zahn this way. In the same statement, Zahn said she was "very excited about joining CNN."
CNN news chief Walter Isaacson said that the network is likely to use Zahn on its morning show, and that CNN was happy to have Zahn work there, "now that she's available."
Sources suggested that although Zahn was earning in the mid-six-figure range for Fox and would have been offered about $850,000 a year to stay with the network, the CNN offer tops $2 million annually. Isaacson would not comment. Fox attorneys informed Zahn's agents Wednesday, and informed her at work. Although asked to leave, sources said, she was not escorted out.
Fox's John Gibson will fill in during Zahn's slot temporarily. Fox sources said Zahn's 10 p.m. show has been the weakest part of its weekday primetime lineup, dropping more than 20% from its lead-in, Hannity & Colmes.
- Dan Trigoboff