News junkies might be familiar with American journalist and news personality Paula Zahn, but there’s more to the On the Case with Paula Zahn host than even her biggest fans might realize. This news veteran began her career as a TV news reporter in the late ’70s, working at local stations across the country, including Dallas, Boston, and Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until she joined ABC News in 1987 and hosted news segments on Good Morning America that she gained national notice (via CNN).
In 1990, Zahn left ABC to co-host CBS This Morning alongside Harry Smith. At the time, the morning news business was extremely competitive, and Zahn recalled replacing Kathleen Sullivan as host in an interview with The Los Angeles Times: “It’s as if you’re thrown into some kind of crash marriage. You spend a lot of time around each other. The fact that my transition was as smooth as it was says a lot about Harry. He trusted me, which is probably the best thing you can say about anybody. I really like him, both as a professional and off the air.”
Paula Zahn weighed in on the TV morning news feuds
When Zahn took over as co-host of CBS This Morning, most attention was on Deborah Norville, who at the time famously replaced Jane Pauley on NBC’s Today show in 1989. After contract negotiations failed between NBC and Pauley, Norville replaced the popular host, fueling rumors of a feud between the two women (via The Washington Post).
At the time, Zahn said she had “strong personal reactions to the situation” and she felt sorry for the other journalists. “When the story broke, I was very insulted,” Zahn told the Los Angeles Times. “It was very belittling to women. Jane Pauley is a woman who was on that show for 13 years and certainly earned her stripes. Deborah Norville was not a newcomer to the news business. She’s proven herself. But suddenly it was construed as a catfight.”
“It certainly is not the way you treat a veteran of a broadcast that had been No. 1,” Zahn added. “And if you’re bringing some great new hope aboard, you have to give them some kind of protection.”
Paula Zahn's move to cable news wasn't without difficulties
After ten years of hosting CBS This Morning, Zahn made the move to Fox News in 1999, where she hosted her own show, The Edge with Paula Zahn. According to the Los Angeles Times, she was fired from the network in 2001 for breach of contract after she received a written offer from CNN to host a show there. Jack Abernaty, Fox News’s executive vice president at the time, told the newspaper the acts of Zahn’s representatives were “unscrupulous, and her actions [were] disloyal to the network.” Zahn denied any wrongdoing, and she accepted the CNN position after being terminated.
Zahn also had one of the toughest first days on a new job anyone can imagine. Although she was expected to debut on CNN in the spring, she called her new employer on Sept. 11, 2001, and asked, “‘Where do you need me?'” (via Chicago Tribune). “I think all of us were basically in the same situation, covering the most challenging story of our careers,” Zahn told the Chicago Tribune.
Zahn proved a strong presence on CNN until she resigned after six years in 2007 (per Reuters). While many felt ratings were a factor, Zahn said in a statement she left the network to take a break and “catch my breath before I take on my next role.”
Paula Zahn's divorce hurt her public image
Zahn was married to real estate investor Richard Cohen for more than 20 years, and the couple had three children: sons Austin and Jared, and daughter Haley. Zahn and Cohen announced that they were parting ways in April 2007, and soon after, media outlets such as the New York Post reported on rumors that Zahn had a long-standing affair with one of her husband’s friends, Paul Fribourg.
The couple’s divorce got messy when Zahn sued her husband for making “dubious investments” with her money (via New York Daily News). Cohen’s return filing claimed Zahn spent more than she brought home. His attorney filed papers that read, “Taxes on her earnings, payments to her agent, and the $20 million cost of her Connecticut mansion alone (without even including the extravagant nature of Ms. Zahn’s annual expenditures), consumed more than her entire income over their 20-year marriage.”
The case was eventually dismissed, and the couple divorced. Zahn has never publicly acknowledged the affair rumors.
Paula Zahn supports many causes
According to Look to the Stars, Zahn has actively supported many charities throughout her career, including Feed the Children, March of Dimes, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She is most well-known for tackling cancer causes and has spoken publicly about helping four family members through their diagnoses (via Cancer Connect).
The Emmy-award winning reporter first experienced her father’s diagnosis with advanced lymphoma, only for her mother to receive a breast cancer diagnosis three weeks later. At the time, Zahn was only 28. Within months, Zahn’s sister-in-law was also diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, and her aunt discovered she had multiple myeloma.
“I remember going through all the predictable stages when my parents were diagnosed,” she told Cancer Connect. “I was extremely angry; I probably was in a state of denial for a while. Then I finally rallied and started to use the extraordinary resources I had as a journalist to be the best advocate I could be for my parents, my sister-in-law, and my aunt.”
Paula Zahn still loves her profession
Zahn reflected positively on her career with an interview in the Staten Island Advance during a speaking event in 2019. She said she still keeps in touch with good friend and fellow journalist Barbara Walters: “She helped me when I was fired and when I was hired. I’ve been very lucky.”
On the Case with Paula Zahn debuted on Investigation Discovery in 2009 and has enjoyed 21 seasons. She told the newspaper her reporting on the show could be disturbing, but rewarding. “Working with cold cases is an interesting experience; almost a religious experience. When these cases are solved the families of the victims feel like the victim finally has a voice,” Zahn said.
In a video interview, she said she viewed her work on the show as a cumulation of her career. “I’m able to use all of those hard-earned scars that I’ve gotten from all my years of reporting in the trenches, and I think I’ve called upon everything I’ve learned since I’ve been on the air,” Zahn said (via YouTube).
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