CNN finally admitted Tuesday night that anchor Chris Cuomo went too far. He crossed, blurred and stepped over the line of trusted network anchor when he used his position to help protect his big brother, Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, fight off sexual harassment allegations that eventually led to his resignation in August.
Viewers tried to tell the network exactly that months ago. Network leaders didn’t listen. They should have. Instead, prosecutors forced CNN’s hand to take action as they released smoking gun documents showing the anchor’s involvement. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, said they were unaware, but this is still a failing by network management.
Now facing public exposure, CNN announced Tuesday night that it has suspended the anchor “indefinitely,” his career is undoubtedly damaged.
This time the evidence was too damning. New York attorney general investigative documents released Monday revealed that Chris Cuomo used his journalist’s know-how to track down a woman who accused his brother of kissing her without permission at a wedding.
“I have a lead on the wedding girl,” Chris Cuomo texted to his brother’s highest-ranking staffer, sounding both like a journalist and an investigator.
On other occasions, he was asked by his brother’s “people” to find out if other media outlets were working on related stories..
“On it,” Cuomo responded. All so wrong on so many levels.
It was an obvious conflict of interest to keep Chris Cuomo on his 9 p.m. time slot. To viewers, watching Cuomo try to side step his brother’s scandal, the story of the day, seemed fishy.
CNN should have just pulled him off the air, not tried to have their cake — Cuomo’s ratings — and eat it, too.
The call for Chris Cuomo to be pulled off the air began as early as May, when the New York attorney general first outlined how Chris Cuomo had been a close advisor to his brother, trying to save his political career as more and more women accused him of inappropriate behavior.
The cable news anchor encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not resign from the governor’s office. At one point, he used the phrase “cancel culture” as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations. Was this a journalist speaking?
Back in August, Joe Battenfeld, a columnist for the Boston Herald was among those calling for CNN to take action:
“CNN has to do the right thing and remove Chris Cuomo from its prime time lineup. It’s more than awkward — it’s unethical to have your supposed ‘journalist’ anchor advise his brother Andrew on how to spin the growing sexual harassment scandal facing the New York governor.”
All this at the expense of loyal CNN viewers and the reputation of the network, where colleagues behind the scenes have also expressed disbelieve in the anchor’s deep involvement in a news story. This boneheaded decision by CNN jeopardized journalistic integrity, giving fuel to conservative arguments that some reporters have personal agendas and that CNN is not objective.
Early in the scandal, the network said Cuomo was wrong to get involved in his brother’s defense efforts, and Chris Cuomo admitted he was carried away by brotherly loyalty, but Zucker said it did not see any reason to reprimand him.
They finally did Tuesday night. Chris Cuomo’s career has now taken a hit, and CNN viewers are shaking their heads.
What a fumble.