CNN’s Cuomo Brothers Headache Isn’t Going Away

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“Many people at CNN love Chris. But they also think he should be off the air for a little while,” one CNN staffer told Vanity Fair.

By Charlotte Klein August 4, 2021 / vanityfair.com

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CNN’s Chris Cuomo in New York City on December 9, 2018. by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo opened his show Tuesday just as he may have any other night over the past 16 months. “We’re focused on COVID here,” he told viewers before turning to President Joe Biden’s handling of delta-fueled spikes.

Only it wasn’t any other night in the news cycle for Cuomo Prime Time, because earlier on Tuesday the New York attorney general had released a bombshell report that found his brother, Governor Andrew Cuomo, had sexually harassed multiple women in violation of both federal and state laws. Chris Cuomo was identified in the findings, both as someone interviewed by the independent investigators and as a member of the inner circle who helped strategize for the embattled governor. That fraternal crisis management was previously reported by the Washington Post in May, but the extent of the CNN host’s counsel was magnified in Tuesday’s report:

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The younger Cuomo made no reference to the news, or his role in it, at any point during Tuesday’s broadcast—even as CNN chyrons about the report’s findings, and the governor’s defiant response, darted across the screen below. Instead, Cuomo aired clips of Biden talking about mask mandates—from the same press conference where the president had called on the governor to resign—and focused on a different governor altogether. 

“Many people at CNN love Chris,” one CNN staffer told Vanity Fair. “But they also think he should be off the air for a little while.”

That the network seemed content to let one of its biggest stars blatantly ignore the biggest story of the day and his connection to it was underscored in the nightly handoff to Don Lemon, who opened his own show with the story that Chris Cuomo had carefully avoided in the hour prior.

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“Can Chris Cuomo continue to helm his 9pm show while being connected to one of the biggest stories in politics? CNN management said yes on Tuesday by keeping him on the air,” wrote CNN’s Brian Stelter that night.Most Popular

The optics of that call are particularly fraught given lines have already been blurred. Ethically questionable Cuomo-on-Cuomo interviews were a regular occurrence on Cuomo Prime Time at the beginning of the pandemic, when the New York Democrat was riding high. But months later, amid sexual harassment allegations against his brother, the host recused himself. “Obviously I cannot cover it because he is my brother,” he told viewers at the top of a show in March, a conflict of interest he was forced to confront in May after the Post revealed he had participated in conference calls with the governor and the governor’s staff to help craft a public response to the allegations against his brother. The primetime anchor apologized to his audience and vowed such conversations “will not happen again,” an acknowledgement that came after CNN called the clear breach of journalistic ethics “inappropriate” but stopped short of punishing him.

Such are among the past public statements that a CNN spokesperson directed Vanity Fair to when asked to comment on the host’s role in Tuesday’s report. In doing so, the outlet essentially recycled prior responses to address the latest revelations about Chris Cuomo’s involvement, a detail Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop notes was “mentioned a handful of times on air, and only then as a limp disclosure.” The lack of accountability was further confirmed by the TV journalist taking the helm as usual hours later. As one current staffer told Buzzfeed, “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.” 

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