Zucker opens up about Bell’s Palsy

Zucker. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Alex Weprin

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Four months into his tenure at CNN, Jeff Zucker woke up in his New York City apartment and realized that he couldn’t move his face.

“You wake up and you look in the mirror and your face can't move and you think you had a stroke, and then you go to the emergency room and they diagnose it,” Zucker told Capital during a wide-ranging interview.

Zucker was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy in June, a form of facial paralysis that renders affected people unable to control facial muscles on one side of their face.

“It's definitely better than it was, but I can't smile, I can't laugh, and I can't raise my forehead,” Zucker said, noting that 98% of the time the symptoms disappear within three months. “I'm at 6 months,” he added. “So, obviously, I'm an outlier in having it.”

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The diagnosis put a damper on what should have been a banner few months for the veteran media executive.

“This has been a great year and it's also been a challenging year personally,” Zucker said. “It’s getting a little better, but that's tempered the excitement that I have felt being here and it's been hard.”

Zucker, an avid tennis player, said that the Bell’s Palsy diagnosis reminded him of his priorities, particularly in relation to the media environment in which CNN operates.

“My mind thinks I just graduated from college, and my body feels old,” Zucker says. “You know, I think the Bell's has just been another reminder that these things are only jobs, and not what really matters in the end, and it doesn't really matter what people write in the comments section of TVNewser or Capital New York or Politico or whatever site or nonsensical blog you want to choose.”

The diagnosis also spurred Zucker to change his habits and try and improve his health… even going so far as to try a treatment that he remains skeptical of.

“I do do acupuncture now, which I never, ever, ever, ever, comma ever would have done,” Zucker says. “That's not something that I really would have believed in—and I'm not sure I still believe in it—but I do it.

“I do find it relaxing and hopefully it will help me fully resolve this,” Zucker added.