For months, CNN’s primetime anchor, Chris Cuomo, refused to cover the multiple scandals surrounding his brother, the former New York governor Andrew Cuomo.
Chris Cuomo said it would be a conflict of interest for him to report on the sexual harassment, corruption and misuse of public funds his brother had been accused of. But many wondered how CNN could justify what amounted to a blackout of one of the nation’s top news stories during the news network’s most-watched time slot.
Uiteindelik, last night, CNN announced that Chris Cuomo would be “suspended indefinitely” from the network, not because of his inability to cover his brother’s scandals but because he’s become a part of them.
According to evidence made public from the New York attorney general’s investigation into Andrew Cuomo’s workplace misconduct, Chris Cuomo used his position as a journalist to ferret out information to help his brother, such as how far along Ronan Farrow was with his first story about the governor. Top gubernatorial aide Melissa de Rosa told the investigation that Chris Cuomo frequently initiated contact with her, and text messages show him pleading “please let me help with the prep” on 3 March and offering “I have a lead on the wedding girl being put up to it” the following day.
Die evidence suggests that Chris Cuomo was dishonest in August when he said during his show, “I never made calls to the press about my brother’s situation.”
It was already known that Chis Cuomo had taken a role advising his brother during his scandals and in May, he apologised on air for doing so and was not further reprimanded by CNN. But after this new evidence was released, CNN announced that Cuomo would be suspended from the network indefinitely. In a statement a CNN spokesperson said:
“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly. But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second. Egter, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew. As gevolg daarvan, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”
It’s unclear whether the suspension is paid or unpaid.
Both CNN and Chris Cuomo have wider questions to answer about how they enforced impartiality in their coverage of Governor Cuomo.
During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the network allowed Chris not just to cover his brother, but air buddy-comedy style entertainment segments which bolstered his public image. In een, the pair jostled about who was the better looking or had the biggest nose (with Chris at one point bringing out a giant prop cotton swab suggesting his brother would need it).
The segments might have raised more eyebrows at the time if the nation hasn’t been in a state of emergency. When criticism did arise, the network argued that they made an exception to a rule banning Chris Cuomo from reporting on his brother that had been in place since 2013 because “Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest.”
The decision to suspend their own rule benefited CNN: the ratings for Chris Cuomo’s show climbed during the months of the brothers’ stunt shows.
Cuomo did robust reporting on other elements of the Covid-19 outbreak but he could have been interviewing any American about the challenges their families were facing, instead of bantering with his brother about who was “the meatball” as he did on 31 Maart 2020, less than a month after the first Covid case in New York was detected, and less than two weeks after his brother and Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, delayed closing schools with petty political squabbles.
The dozen or so episodes with his brother served as free press for the governor’s million-dollar book deal about how he handled the crisis. Steeds, Chris Cuomo argued that he was simply acting as a concerned and loving brother, as anyone might, and many seemed sympathetic to that argument.
When messages indicating Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defense first came to light in August, CNN employees anonymously expressed frustration at the network’s refusal to censure him.
“The fact that Chris Cuomo wasn’t fired over his inappropriate conflict of interest in actively affecting a news story is not only irresponsible of CNN, but also a disgrace to journalism,” one employee told BuzzFeed News at the time.
Another griped that it was typical of the network, a place where “the more prominent you are, the less the rules and discipline apply to you.”
Marissa Hoechstetter, a high-profile victims’ rights advocate and survivor of sexual abuse, cautioned against trusting CNN with sensitive stories if Chris Cuomo continues to face no consequences.
“As a survivor who has trusted CNN with my story, it is deeply disturbing that Chris Cuomo remains employed. His unethical behavior – plus that of anyone giving him any info in the first place – should be disqualifying for a journalist. If they keep him on, they can’t be trusted,” Hoechstetter getwiet on Tuesday.
And Charlotte Bennett, one of the young women who reported experiencing sexual harassment in the governor’s employ, issued a statement condemning the network’s inaction.
“Just like his older brother, Chris Cuomo used his time, network and resources to help smear victims, dig up opposition research, and belittle our credible allegations,” Bennett said Tuesday. “Anything short of firing Chris Cuomo reflects a network lacking both morals and backbone. Does CNN stand by journalistic integrity, or will it simply excuse his actions because Chris Cuomo drives ratings?”
Vir sy deel, Chris Cuomo didn’t address his role in his brother’s debacle, but on his radio show Tuesday complained that his brother was denied “due process”. But how else would the investigation that turned up the messages and transcripts be described? Andrew Cuomo was afforded, tot op hede, at least two thorough investigations into the complaints about his conduct. He had access to legal counsel and an apparently robust team of people working in his defense.
By allowing the Cuomos their buddy routine during the pandemic, CNN was implicitly endorsing a politician they considered to be one of the good guys (it’s difficult to imagine Andrew Cuomo would have been offered the same leeway were he a Republican governor). That suspension of ethical guidelines has made things very uncomfortable for the channel, and its star host, now that normal politics has resumed and both brothers appear mired in scandal.