CNN’s Chris Cuomo Prime Time offered a mix of news, interviews, and insights into politics and how those in power work the levers of power in Washington. He often reserved his harshest assessment of others for a segment called, “Let’s Get After It!” His approach throughout was straightforward as he fearlessly held political figures accountable, and on more than one occasion, made it clear that he did not always agree with the Democrats’ party line.
I watched Shepard Smith when he was with Fox News because he refused to buy into the hard-right party line, selling disinformation like snake oil to wide-eyed viewers. Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson were all about attack-dog politics and conspiracy theories. Smith was all about the news. When the attack meisters finally attacked him, he told Fox executives, “I’m outta here!” Smith’s north star was integrity.
Sadly, Cuomo fell far short of that integrity when evidence revealed that he was helping his older brother Andrew navigate the media waters when the former New York governor became embroiled in a series of sexual harassment scandals that his brother continues to deny to this day.
“Chris Cuomo was suspended earlier this week pending further evaluation of new information that came to light about his involvement with his brother’s defense,” CNN said in a statement on Twitter. “We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately. While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.”
Shortly after that statement, Cuomo delivered his own:
“This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother,” he tweeted. “So let me now say as disappointing as this is, I could not be more proud of the team at Cuomo Prime Time and the work we did as CNN’s #1 show in the most competitive time slot. I owe them all and will miss that group of special people who did really important work.”
It’s interesting that Cuomo’s first statement since his firing offers no apology to his considerable fan base about his clearly unethical actions. (It’s also interesting that both CNN and Cuomo chose Twitter to issue a major announcement. But that’s another story.)
When the scandal of brother Andrew first broke, the younger Cuomo addressed his nightly audience with a clear, concise, and heartfelt message in which he said he would steer clear of any reporting on the issue because of the obvious conflict of interest: he loves his brother. All perfectly understandable until Cuomo became his own “Let’s Get After It!” segment. He crossed a big, bright ethical line when he directly worked to help his brother while employed at the cable news network.
When I first heard about the story it sounded like a clear-cut case of taking a leave of absence and spending time helping his brother. But that’s before I heard the shocker: CNN offered him the option to take a leave but Cuomo turned it down!
Cuomo’s ethical lapse comes down to this: he put loyalty to his brother before his responsibilities to CNN and worse, to the audience who trusted him.
“The text messages between Cuomo, who is Andrew Cuomo’s younger brother, and Melissa DeRosa, the aide, show him attempting to help tailor his brother’s response to sexual harassment allegations,” CBS News reported.
“Cuomo said he didn’t tell anyone at CNN that he had reached out to another journalist about their reporting on his brother, stating that it was ‘not something that would be out of the ordinary.’
“Isabelle Kirshner, an attorney who represents Cuomo and attended his deposition, told CBS News on Monday that the former CNN host was ‘honest’ with investigators.”
It’s too bad he wasn’t honest with CNN chiefs and his audience earlier on.
One could argue that his love for his brother clouded his conscience causing him to lapse. But Cuomo himself has brought up issues like this with others on his nightly show. Particularly troubling is that he’s too smart and too experienced not to know he was making a big mistake and, in the process, putting the organization that employs him at risk. He also fueled the notion that most of the media is biased and cannot be trusted.
Further aggravating Cuomo’s fall from grace, a former female colleague has come forward accusing him of sexual harassment.
The powers of the press are a public trust. All journalists have a duty to be honest, and should never knowingly mislead, deceive or lie directly or by omission. And they should never behave in any manner that any reasonable person would view as inappropriate or offensive. That’s what they owe their employers and that’s what they owe the public.