Land of Cuomo...CNN Fires Chris Cuomo Amid Inquiry Into His Efforts to Aid His Brother

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Dec 5, 2021, 2:18:58 PM12/5/21

By Michael M. Grynbaum, John Koblin and Jodi Kantor
Published Dec. 4, 2021
Updated Dec. 5, 2021, 1:18 a.m. ET

The star anchor Chris Cuomo was fired by CNN on Saturday, completing a
stunning downfall for the network’s top-rated host amid a continuing
inquiry into his efforts to help his brother, Andrew M. Cuomo, then the
governor of New York, stave off sexual harassment accusations.

The anchor was suspended on Tuesday after testimony and text messages
released by the New York attorney general revealed a more intimate and
engaged role in his brother’s political affairs than the network said it
had previously known.

On Wednesday, Debra S. Katz, a prominent employment lawyer, informed CNN
of a client with an allegation of sexual misconduct against Chris Cuomo.
Ms. Katz said in a statement on Saturday that the allegation against the
anchor, which was made by a former junior colleague at another network,
was “unrelated to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo matter.”

It was not fully clear what role the allegation played in CNN’s decision
to dismiss Mr. Cuomo. Ms. Katz is also the lawyer for Charlotte Bennett, a
onetime aide to Andrew Cuomo who accused the former governor in February
of sexual harassment.

Asked about the new allegation, a CNN spokeswoman said in a statement on
Saturday night: “Based on the report we received regarding Chris’s conduct
with his brother’s defense, we had cause to terminate. When new
allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no
reason to delay taking immediate action.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, Steven Goldberg, said in a statement on
Saturday, “These apparently anonymous allegations are not true.”

Ms. Katz said that her client “came forward because she was disgusted by
Chris Cuomo’s on-air statements in response to the allegations made
against his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.” Ms. Katz cited a March 1
broadcast in which Chris Cuomo said: “I have always cared very deeply
about these issues, and profoundly so. I just wanted to tell you that.”

Mr. Cuomo’s spokesman responded that the former anchor “fully stands by
his on-air statements about his connection to these issues, both
professionally and in a profoundly personal way. If the goal in making
these false and unvetted accusations was to see Mr. Cuomo punished by CNN,
that may explain his unwarranted termination.”

Earlier on Saturday, CNN said it had “retained a respected law firm to
conduct a review” of the anchor’s involvement with Andrew Cuomo’s
political team. “While in the process of that review, additional
information has come to light,” CNN said. “Despite the termination, we
will investigate as appropriate.”

As the gregarious and sometimes combative host of CNN’s 9 p.m. hour, Mr.
Cuomo was at the peak of a broadcast journalism career that he had forged
outside of his famed political family. But it was the troubles of his
brother, who resigned the governorship in August, that ultimately
embroiled Mr. Cuomo in a controversy that appeared to precipitate his

“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,” Chris Cuomo said in a statement earlier
on Saturday. “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.”

Until last month, Mr. Cuomo had enjoyed the support of CNN’s president,
Jeff Zucker, and he faced no discipline for his behind-the-scenes
strategizing with Andrew Cuomo’s political aides, a breach of basic
journalistic norms.

But documents released on Nov. 29 revealed that the anchor offered advice
on Andrew Cuomo’s public statements and made efforts to uncover the status
of pending articles at other news outlets, including The New Yorker and
Politico, concerning harassment allegations against his brother.

Mr. Zucker — who had been steadfast in backing Chris Cuomo, at one point
saying the anchor was “human” and facing “very unique circumstances” —
informed the anchor on Saturday that he was being fired. “It goes without
saying that these decisions are not easy, and there are a lot of complex
factors involved,” Mr. Zucker wrote in a memo to CNN staff.

The spectacle of a high-profile anchor advising his powerful politician
brother amid scandal was a longstanding headache for many CNN journalists,
who privately expressed discomfort at actions that, in their view,
compromised the network’s credibility. The CNN anchor Jake Tapper went
public with his concerns in May, telling The New York Times that his
colleague had “put us in a bad spot,” adding, “I cannot imagine a world in
which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate.”

Even so, the timing of Mr. Cuomo’s firing, on a Saturday at 5 p.m., caught
many members of the CNN newsroom off guard.

The network’s decision earlier in the week to suspend Mr. Cuomo had left
open the possibility that he might return to the channel at a later date.
CNN’s chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, speculated on air on
Wednesday that it was “possible he’ll be back in January.”

The network said on Tuesday it would begin an internal review of Mr.
Cuomo’s conduct. But its executives had not immediately planned to hire an
outside law firm, according to a person familiar with the network’s
internal decision-making process. That plan changed in recent days, and
CNN declined on Saturday to identify the name of the law firm it had

The Downfall of Andrew Cuomo
Card 1 of 5
The path to resignation. After drawing national praise for his leadership
in the early days of the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was
confronted with several scandals that eventually led to his resignation on
Aug. 10, 2021. Here is what to know about his political demise:

Sexual harassment accusations. Multiple women accused Mr. Cuomo of
harassment, including groping and lewd remarks. An independent inquiry by
the New York State attorney general corroborated the accounts. The
investigation also found that he retaliated against at least one woman who
made her complaints public.

Nursing home controversy. The Cuomo administration came under fire for
undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the
first half of 2020. The official tally might have undercounted the true
toll by as much as 50 percent.

Book deal. The attorney general’s report found that Mr. Cuomo used state
workers to produce his pandemic memoir, breaking a promise to the Joint
Commission on Public Ethics not to use state resources for its completion.
The board subsequently voted to revoke its authorization for the book.

Chris Cuomo’s involvement. Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor and Andrew Cuomo’s
brother, was suspended indefinitely by the network on Nov. 30, after the
New York State attorney general released new evidence about his far-
reaching efforts to assist his sibling that were in breach of journalistic
standards. He was fired on Dec. 4.

Before joining CNN, Mr. Cuomo spent years as an on-air correspondent,
covering wildfires, shooting rampages and war zones, most prominently at
ABC News. He was one of Mr. Zucker’s first major hires after he became
president of the network in 2013. A morning show, “New Day,” was organized
in part around Mr. Cuomo’s bombastic, fast-talking on-air personality.

The awkwardness of his relationship with Andrew Cuomo — who was among the
most powerful Democratic politicians in the country — became apparent
almost immediately: In 2013, the network was criticized after Chris Cuomo
twice interviewed his brother on “New Day.”

In 2018, Mr. Cuomo moved to prime-time, taking the coveted 9 p.m. slot.
“Cuomo Prime Time” became CNN’s highest-rated hour, although it regularly
attracted fewer viewers than competitors on Fox News and MSNBC.

At the onset of the pandemic, Andrew Cuomo became a leading national
figure in the government response. Chris Cuomo began interviewing his
brother in prime time, and their teasing banter and emotional
conversations became a hit with viewers. Ratings surged further after
Chris Cuomo contracted the coronavirus; he continued broadcasting, and
interviewing his brother, from quarantine in the basement of his Long
Island home. Mr. Zucker praised the segments for their “authenticity and
relatability and vulnerability.”

“That’s what the brothers Cuomo are giving us right now,” Mr. Zucker told
The Times in April 2020.

The next year, as Andrew Cuomo was facing an increasing number of sexual
harassment accusations, Chris Cuomo recused himself from reporting on the
scandal, leaving a prime-time hole in CNN’s coverage of what was turning
out to be a national news story.

At the same time, away from the anchor desk, Chris Cuomo was participating
in strategy sessions with the governor’s top aides. It also emerged that
Andrew Cuomo had arranged for his brother’s Covid tests to receive
priority treatment by the state. CNN did not discipline Chris Cuomo, and
at one point offered the anchor a leave of absence if he wished to more
formally help his brother.

After Andrew Cuomo resigned, Chris Cuomo defended himself on the Aug. 16
episode of his program. “I’m not an adviser, I’m a brother,” the anchor
said. “I never attacked nor encouraged anyone to attack any woman who came
forward. I never made calls to the press about my brother’s situation.”

But the new batch of testimony and text messages suggested that Mr. Cuomo
did function as an adviser and did reach out to journalists. “When asked,
I would reach out to sources, other journalists, to see if they had heard
of anybody else coming out,” he told investigators.

In September, another former colleague, Shelley Ross, who had worked with
Mr. Cuomo at ABC News, described an instance when the anchor touched her
inappropriately at a gathering in 2005. In an essay published in the
opinion section of The Times, Ms. Ross wrote that Mr. Cuomo “greeted me
with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze
the cheek of my buttock.”

In a response published by The Times as part of the essay, Mr. Cuomo said:
“As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It
happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at
ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”

Ms. Ross had been Mr. Cuomo’s boss at ABC News before the incident she
described; at the gathering, she wrote, Mr. Cuomo told her, “I can do this
now that you’re no longer my boss.” She wrote that she was inspired to
publish the essay partly because Mr. Cuomo had “escaped accountability”
for advising his brother while working as a CNN news anchor, and also
because of the statements he had made on March 1, in which he spoke of
caring “very deeply” about the issue of sexual harassment.

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