On December 4, CNN announced that prime-time host Chris Cuomo had been terminated. This followed his suspension earlier that week after documents from New York Attorney General Letitia James revealed that the anchor had used his position as a journalist to attempt to help his brother, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, through several reports of sexual misconduct.
This isn’t the first bind Chris Cuomo has gotten into on behalf of his brother. In May 2021, The Washington Post reported that the anchor advised the former governor and senior members of the governor’s staff on how to respond to the sexual harassment allegations. On a series of conference calls, Cuomo “encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office.”
Statement on Chris Cuomo’s termination from CNN. pic.twitter.com/yKPwYtMznD
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) December 4, 2021
Cuomo faced no consequences for his early-2021 advisement. A CNN spokesperson stated that “it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.” Until last month, Cuomo even enjoyed the stalwart support of CNN president Jeff Zucker.
The recent release of documents from the New York attorney general includes 169 pages of text messages, emails, and more. Transcripts of conversations with investigators show that Cuomo spoke regularly with his brother, coaching him on responses and sparring with the governors’ aides concerning strategy.
Chris Cuomo also sought out information on his brother’s accusers before it was published, contacting journalists at various outlets to uncover the status of pending articles. On March 4, he texted the governor’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, saying “I have a lead on the wedding girl,” referring to a woman who accused his brother of unwanted touching at a wedding reception. Concerning her exchanges with Cuomo, DeRosa testified: “I talked to Chris pretty regularly. He was on some calls that we did, and he advised us on how to respond.”
Andrew Cuomo resigned in August amid a developing impeachment case after the state attorney general determined he sexually harassed at least 11 women. Separate from his compromise of journalistic standards, Chris Cuomo also faced a sexual misconduct allegation last week from a former junior colleague at another network.
Chris Cuomo’s termination furthers a fall from grace for both Cuomo brothers, once TV titans during the pandemic in 2020. It has become clear now that their success, individually and especially together, represents a flagrant violation of journalistic standards.
If some news channel intern did what Chris Cuomo did they'd have been fired one second after these docs were published https://t.co/IVw6XvKujP
— David Weigel (@daveweigel) November 30, 2021
After his first infraction, Cuomo apologized and explained his priorities, which did not bode well for the integrity of his reporting: “family fist, job second.” He said, “Being a journalist and a brother to a politician is unique, and a unique challenge, and I have a unique responsibility to balance those roles.”
He failed to do so, to the detriment of his network and followers, as David A. Graham explains for The Atlantic:
“Whether that balance was ever truly achievable is debatable, but the conflict between the roles eventually became irreconcilable. He could have chosen to step down from his job to back his brother, or he could have chosen to distance himself from the scandal and commit to journalism. Instead, he tried to have it both ways. In using his journalistic skills and access to aid his brother, Cuomo broke trust with his employers and, more important, his audience.”
Blame falls to CNN for supporting Cuomo after his first violation. The network also ignored its own “commonsense precaution” banning the anchor from interviewing his brother so it could cash in on their banter during the pandemic. Mainstream news media must maintain higher standards — to at least avoid, rather than celebrate, substantial conflicts of interest.
Image via CNN