Media insiders have reacted with criticism and even pity for CNN’s Chris Cuomo and regret over the state of the industry regarding the bizarre situation engulfing him, his network, and his powerful brother.
Cuomo is not only CNN’s most-watched host, he’s the younger brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D. An investigation concluded the latter sexually harassed 11 women over seven years in office, and the former advised him behind the scenes on addressing the allegations, even drafting a statement for him and his political team, all while anchoring his primetime program.
Chris Cuomo has never hidden his political affiliations and his affection for his brother – he already apologized in May when the Washington Post reported on his private advice – but the investigation again illuminates the tensions for CNN of having a Democratic family scion in the most public-facing role at a news outlet.
“It gives critics of the media something else to use at a time when really the media needs to work really hard to try to rebuild its credibility with the American public,” a rival network host told Fox News. “What’s been happening of late on the Cuomo story has not helped.”
Chris Cuomo hasn’t reported at all on Gov. Cuomo’s woes this week, in keeping with what he said in March about how he “obviously” couldn’t report on his own family. Those words rang hollow for critics, given that he was allowed by CNN to conduct a series of fawning interviews with his brother – they even did prop comedy with an oversized Q-tip – at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Yet even after the Post’s story on Cuomo crossing the line from concerned brother to outright political strategist, CNN President Jeff Zucker didn’t reprimand him. Zucker called it a “mistake” during a staff meeting and never took him off the air. The New York Times reported CNN brass even floated him taking a leave of absence this year to help out his brother.
Another longtime industry insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity feels Zucker is too close to the younger Cuomo sibling to ever scold him publicly.
“Zucker made Chris a star and no matter how deeply embarrassing he becomes, he’s untouchable. It’s sad that CNN primetime has become this clown show and unseemly altar to Jeff’s ego,” the insider told Fox News.
The rival host told Fox News he was sympathetic to a point and even felt “sorry” for the embattled Cuomo.
“He’s in an exceptionally difficult situation with a brother,” he said, adding, “As far as Chris Cuomo goes, who can fault somebody for talking to their brother about things? But if you’re drafting statements, if you’re giving advice, I think at that point you’re transparent about that or you remove yourself from the program, certainly don’t report on that news.”
“I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for the family,” he added. “It’s a tough situation for everybody. I feel sorry for everybody involved.”
The host recommended Cuomo use a substitute, like Anderson Cooper, when there was big news on his brother. Close ties between media and politicians may be inevitable in the business, but he said journalists had a responsibility to “lean into them a little bit harder to show people that you’re being fair,” or get off the air.
Public trust in the media has dwindled in the wake of botched stories like the pre-emptive dismissal of coronavirus lab-leak theory and reporters feeling more comfortable wearing liberal views on their sleeves.
“It’s always been an inside game for Democrats,” the host said. “It just has. You look at the people who get promoted and you look at people who get ahead or people who might get a free pass on on things … I think this does play into the perception that mainstream media is an inside game.
Chris Cuomo has faced withering criticism across the media landscape for his conduct.
The Poynter Institute’s senior media writer Tom Jones penned a column titled “Don’t blame Chris Cuomo for his brother’s actions. Blame him for his own actions,” that scolded the troubled CNN host for his role in the ongoing scandal.
“The problem is that Chris admittedly was part of the team that advised Andrew when the allegations that Andrew had sexually harassed women were going public,” Jones wrote before noting Cuomo could potentially have a vendetta against political figures he’s expected to cover.
“I won’t go as far as to call for someone’s job, but CNN is in a bad spot here,” Jones wrote in a follow-up piece. “Politicians that Chris talks about — Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and so forth — have called for Andrew to resign. Might that affect how Chris covers them? The fact that this is even a question is a problem for CNN.”
Jones added that Chris Cuomo is “forever going to have a credibility problem among some viewers” and only a time machine could fix it.
MSNBC contributor and former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance called Chris Cuomo’s involvement an “ethical” issue, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter said the situation “raises serious questions about journalistic responsibilities and ethics,” and journalist Laura Bassett called for Cuomo’s ouster from CNN in a column for MSNBC.
Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer suggested a high-powered CNN executive with ties to the governor is partially at fault for the predicament.
“Do you know who is in charge of communications at CNN? Governor Cuomo’s former communications director Allison Gollust,” Fleischer said on Wednesday. “She now runs the show, she’s the No. 2 to Jeff Zucker at CNN … one of the reasons why CNN has not taken any disciplinary action against journalist Chris Cuomo is because of the relationship she has with Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Lindsay Nielsen, a former Albany-based investigative reporter who spoke to state investigators during their probe, thinks CNN viewers deserve an explanation from the “Cuomo Prime Time” host.
“They’re saying he was working in a capacity for the State of New York without an official title. I mean, that in and of itself right there, I think is another issue that has come out of this whole report,” Nielsen told Fox News. ”How can you trust that someone is being fair and unbiased when he hasn’t even addressed it?
Meanwhile, other shots at CNN’s Cuomo have come from inside his own network.
“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,” a CNN staffer told BuzzFeed News.