CNN suspended anchor Chris Cuomo indefinitely on Tuesday after a prosecutor’s report disclosed more embarrassing details about how much he helped his brother, former New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fight accusations of sexual harassment.
The network, which has been criticized for failing to take action against Mr. Cuomo earlier this year, said documents released by New York’s attorney general Monday “point to a greater level of involvement” in his brother’s defense than CNN officials knew.
“As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” the network said.
The revelations about Chris Cuomo’s extensive strategizing last spring have the network facing calls to fire him and explain why it allowed such a major ethical breakdown.
Despite Mr. Cuomo’s on-air claims that he was “not an adviser” to his brother and “never made calls to the press” about Andrew Cuomo’s sex scandal, the documents released this week contradicted both pronouncements.
Text messages and Mr. Cuomo‘s own testimony in the prosecutor’s probe show that the CNN host was in frequent contact with his brother’s top political advisers as the sexual harassment allegations mounted last spring to include complaints from 11 women.
Chris Cuomo suggested statements to the governor’s team for his brother to use in his defense, sounded out his journalistic sources and colleagues for behind-the-scenes developments, and sought information to discredit at least one the women who came forward with an accusation against the governor, the documents show.
“I have a lead on the wedding girl,” he texted the governor’s top adviser, Melissa DeRosa, referring to a news report that Andrew Cuomo tried to kiss a woman at a wedding without her consent. The “lead” was that the woman was lying, but it turned out she was telling the truth.
At another point, Chris Cuomo chided Ms. DeRosa in a text, “We’re making mistakes we can’t afford.”
He told her, “Please let me help with prep.”
When a sixth woman accused the governor of groping her, Chris Cuomo asked Ms. DeRosa in a text why she hadn’t told the governor immediately about the possible newspaper story. “Stop hiding s—t,” he texted Ms. DeRosa.
Confronted with these details, CNN had said on Monday that it would conduct a “thorough review” of the longtime anchor’s actions.
“We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days,” the network said in its earlier statement.
Media critics and journalism ethicists pointed out that CNN could have investigated Chris Cuomo‘s role back in the spring when it became clear that the host of its 9 p.m. show was advising his brother.
“This whole issue came out long ago,” said Richard Benedetto, an adjunct professor of journalism at American University. “CNN should have set some parameters for Chris Cuomo, but apparently did not. He‘s got a job where it becomes a conflict of interest, no question.”
WarnerMedia, the parent company of CNN, states in its standards of business conduct: “A conflict of interest arises when a personal or family interest interferes with our ability to make sound, objective business decisions on behalf of the company. Despite the best of intentions, even the appearance of a conflict can be harmful to the company.”
Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia School of Journalism, said after the revelations, “It’s hard to imagine any news executive keeping Chris Cuomo on staff.”
“Then again, as CNN likes to say, ‘THIS is CNN,’” he tweeted.
Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple said CNN‘s announcement of a review “is also an admission of failure at the highest levels of network leadership: They could have investigated this matter months ago and chose not to.”
Rolling Stone editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman tweeted, “If this story is accurate, it describes a series of shocking ethical breaches — fireable offenses at any other news outlet.”
CNN did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Times.
Brian Stelter, who reports on media issues for CNN, offered something of a defense on Twitter.
“For what it’s worth, when Chris Cuomo addressed his actions on the air back in August, he said ‘this will be my final word on it,’ and he hasn’t addressed the matter on TV since,” Mr. Stelter tweeted on Monday.
But Radar Online reported Tuesday that Mr. Stelter is angling for Mr. Cuomo‘s prime-time slot, and that afternoon host Jake Tapper also “sees this as his chance.”
CNN said earlier that it was “inappropriate” for Chris Cuomo to engage in discussions about his brother’s scandal and that he “will not participate in such conversations going forward.”
The attorney general’s probe makes clear that Chris Cuomo‘s actions on behalf of his brother went far beyond what he disclosed to viewers — and perhaps to his supervisors. He told viewers that he wasn’t an adviser to his older brother, but was there to “listen and offer my take.”
In one text, Chris Cuomo provided a complete written statement to Ms. DeRosa for the governor. “I will not resign, I cannot resign,” the text stated.
He traded texts with another of the governor’s advisers about media stories on the scandal, with the aide rating one story from The New Yorker as “a snoozer.” The adviser also assured Chris Cuomo that one Washington Post journalist had “nothing new” to report.
In his deposition, Chris Cuomo told investigators that he and his brother also discussed the #MeToo movement in relation to then-President Donald Trump and then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, both of whom had overcome past accusations of sexual misconduct.
He said Andrew Cuomo‘s view of the #MeToo movement was that “it is highly political in perspective, that we haven’t gotten to a place where we all see things the same way. And that was something that he believed very much politically benefited the former president, that it was very different how things were viewed in his [Democratic] camp, I guess you’d call it.”
Andrew Cuomo resigned in August to avoid a looming impeachment trial. He also abandoned a bid for a fourth term in 2022.
If CNN allows Chris Cuomo to return after the suspension, it won’t be because of his ratings.
“Cuomo Prime Time” hit its all-time low in the ratings last week with an average of 684,000 total average viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings data.
That performance ranked it 25th among cable news shows. When the program launched permanently in June 2018, it averaged 1.137 million total viewers.
The lowest-ranked prime-time program last week was CNN‘s 10 p.m. “Don Lemon Tonight,” which came in 40th, garnering 495,000 total average viewers.