He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.
CNN announced it was firing top-rated anchor Chris Cuomo today, following his suspension for allegedly breaking the network’s rules in helping his brother, former New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, combat allegations of sexual harassment levied by 11 different accusers. Cuomo was suspended earlier this week, pending an investigation and today CNN finalized its decision, in what can best be described as a Saturday news dump, designed to hit the media when the fewest number of people would be paying attention.
The timing also conveniently excuses Cuomo’s erstwhile colleagues, weekday anchors Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, from having to discuss the firing on their own prime time shows.
I’m of two minds regarding Cuomo’s ouster. The main complaints about his conduct are that (1) he sought to defend Andrew Cuomo by trying to dig up dirt on his victims, an underhanded, misogynistic ploy that Chris himself has condemned in other cases, and (2) he misused his position at CNN to help Andrew obtain insider information on media coverage of the harassment scandal. I feel the former allegation justifies his firing, but the latter is baloney.
On the first count, it is not only morally wrong to subject a victim of sexual harassment to more abuse and humiliation by trying to dig up dirt on her, but it calls Chris’ journalistic integrity into question overall. For weeks, he skewered Brian Laundrie’s family for possibly concealing Laundrie’s guilt in Gabby Petito’s disappearance and murder. Chris regularly and rightfully lambasts political representatives who lie about their candidate’s misconduct. He even finally banned Kayleigh McEnany from his show, after she persisted in her baldfaced disregard of the truth, as Trump’s White House press secretary. Going forward, how can an audience listen to him report on and criticize those who compromise themselves to support the guilty, if he’s suspected of doing it himself.
Andrew Cuomo has not been formally found guilty, but the sheer number of his accusers give them credibility, just as volume spoke volumes in Bill Cosby’s case. Furthermore, Andrew’s weak defenses are telling. Born in Queens, Andrew Cuomo’s father Mario was also a native New Yorker. Yet, Andrew would have you think he’d just arrived from Campania. He claimed cultural differences led to the perception that he was being more familiar with women in his workplace than he should have been. Basically, he wanted people to believe that because he’s Italian, he says “ciao, bella” a lot and women mistakenly believe he’s coming on to them. First of all, women have complained about more than objectionable greetings from Andrew. Some have accused him of forcible, unwanted touching, in addition to asking intrusive personal questions (which Andrew denies). The fact that he would try to pass off serious allegations as “cultural differences,” when he’s not even from a different culture, speaks of subterfuge and guilt, by itself.
Though the charges are less violent, the evidence against Andrew is looking to be as compelling as it was against Brett Kavanaugh. Maybe nothing has been proven in a court of law, but objectively, the claims seem far from spurious. If one unreliable witness was pointing fingers at Andrew, I could understand Cuomo trying to research her background, to better assess her veracity, but there are many unassailable witnesses who have come forward against Andrew, not just one or two women with questionable motives. And its worth noting that Andrew’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, also resigned in the wake of these allegations. DeRosa had been a trusted assistant to Andrew Cuomo and her exit suggests she knew the sexual harassment claims against him had some validity. If Chris Cuomo is investigating Andrew’s many accusers, he’s not looking for truth. He’s looking to trash. A man who employs such dishonorable tactics should not be on CNN, where he’s called upon to expose dirt, not sling it.
However, to the extent that Cuomo was fired for misusing CNN information, I find that laughable. In 2016, Donna Brazile’s position as a political contributor at CNN ended after she was accused of leaking debate questions and topics to the Hillary Clinton campaign, ahead of the debate CNN was hosting. If true, knowing the questions ahead of time would have given Clinton a head start in debate preparation and an advantage over other Democratic primary candidates. But in the Cuomo case, there were no secret questions for Cuomo to pass on to his brother. It’s not as if privileged communications were being handed to Andrew on the downlow. “Here bruh, I hid a tape recorder in Ronan Farrow’s green room and stealth stole information that will help you beat this rap.” There was none of that at play.
More importantly, any media information Cuomo does have regarding the sexual harassment claims could likely have been obtained by him independently. When it comes to New York City press, prosecutors and police, the Cuomos probably have more connections than CNN does. They’ve been in the game a lot longer. CNN launched in 1980 and Mario Cuomo was already a prominent New York attorney in the 1960s. Indeed, one of Mario Cuomo’s clients was real estate developer Fred Trump (father of Donald). Mario became New York’s Secretary of State in 1975 and rose to the position of governor in 1982, when Chris was just 12. Both Andrew and Chris Cuomo have known the city’s movers and shakers all of their lives. Chris hardly had to flash his CNN business card to get “insider” information from anyone.
What is more, Chris’ blood tie and bias was known to everyone. One must realize that a conflict of interest is not wrong in and of itself. It does not constitute a professional breach to have a conflict of interest. Misconduct occurs when that conflict is undisclosed and unapproved. If you are an attorney and you have a relationship that conflicts with your client’s, you must inform the client in writing and have the client acknowledge that the disclosure was made. If the client agrees, for example, that you may represent him, even though the person suing him is your sister, then there’s nothing wrong with that. What you can’t do is hide your relationship with people or interests opposed to your client’s. That’s what gets you disciplined. The concealment, not the relationship.
In Chris’ case, when everyone knows that he’s Andrew’s brother, he’s not deceiving anyone when he acts to support Andrew. If Chris asked reporters for information about Politico articles slated to be published against Andrew, everyone knew that he was asking for himself and not on behalf of CNN. They were free to refuse any of his requests without fear of recrimination from the network. When it comes to journalistic integrity, it’s the secret alliances we need to fear, not obvious fraternal loyalty.
In fact, it seems absurd to me that CNN claims to have expected Cuomo to remain objective. Why would CNN or its audience expect that? Chris advised Andrew’s aides. So what? Frankly, I’m amused that Andrew thought his brother was so brilliant that he could offer better advice than Andrew’s paid consultants. But if he needed his little brother’s input, no one would expect Chris to refuse it. Being a professional does not mean you have no personal bonds that override your career. It would be a delusion to pretend it did.
In the law, if a firm attorney has a conflict of interest, perhaps if he has represented the opposing party in a lawsuit in the past, he is screened or walled off from the case, so that he is not privy to any information or work involving the matter and both his past client and the firm’s current client are protected from any privileged knowledge that the conflicted attorney might possess involving either party. Similarly, CNN did not allow Chris Cuomo to report on any of CNN’s coverage of the sexual harassment claims against Andrew. In fact, Cuomo did not cover any negative stories about his brother at all. Because his bias was obvious, he was walled off from Andrew Cuomo news, so that viewers would not be influenced by that bias. For the most part.
During the peak of Covid’s 2020 spread, CNN famously allowed Andrew to guest with his brother. They discussed the serious nature of the pandemic and ways to combat it. Their humorous banter entertained the audience and gained publicity for the network. In hindsight this seems to have been a professional lapse, not on Chris Cuomo’s part, but on CNN’s. At the time, CNN thought it more important to promote urgent safeguards against the spread of Covid, than to keep its journalistic distance from politician Andrew Cuomo. CNN began to look like Andrew’s hype man, because it, not just Chris, was advertising Andrew’s inspiring appearances on Chris’ show. Thankfully, the Cuomo on Cuomo segments were short-lived. For most of his tenure at CNN, Chris steered clear of Andrew Cuomo coverage, while CNN did not avoid harsh reporting on the governor.
It was not uncommon, for example, to have Anderson Cooper report on Andrew Cuomo’s alleged attempts to cover up nursing home Covid deaths in New York City, just minutes before Chris Cuomo came on the air. There has been no suggestion that Chris Cuomo tried to quash negative media coverage on his brother and CNN regularly critiqued Andrew Cuomo. Its reporters never shied away from questioning Andrew’s honesty and actions, even with his brother on the payroll.
On Monday, November 29, 2021, when Chris’ CNN show neared its end he handed the screen off to the next anchor, Don Lemon. Lemon and Cuomo often remarked that their exchanges are the most popular ratings moments for CNN. That night, Don Lemon not only told Cuomo he loved him, a daily ritual for the two men, but he said that he was thankful for him, thought him one of the kindest people in the world, and felt grateful to have him in his life. I think Lemon knew then that Cuomo would not be coming back.
I understand Chris’ firing. There were good reasons to get rid of him. But I’d like to know that the decision to terminate was actually based on those good reasons, not the canards.