Opinion

The Real Issue with the Chris Cuomo Scandal Is CNN, As the News Anchor Weighs Down the Network

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Posted: Nov 30, 2021 12:01 AM
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The Real Issue with the Chris Cuomo Scandal Is CNN, As the News Anchor Weighs Down the Network

Source: AP Photo

Yesterday, a huge document dump from the state attorney general of New York was released, and in it were sections revealing just how involved CNN pundit Chris Cuomo had been in the working defense of his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. AG Letitia James released a 300-page file of transcripts and other evidence that reveals Chris Cuomo took on far more than the passive advisory role to his brother that he and his network sold to the audience.

This makes for the third time that Cuomo, on this particular issue, has been exposed as being more involved with his brother's scandal. When the news first broke in February, questions mounted, as Chris had his brother as a guest on his show numerous times in 2020. Those image-burnishing appearances led to Andrew being hailed in the press as a COVID leader, leading to a book deal and hiding the fact that he was covering up a deeply flawed policy that led to elderly deaths during the pandemic.

However, Cuomo is their top-rated personality. It explains their continued support, even though his ratings are something that is a rather relative boast. 

CNN had numerous reasons to look into the antics of their star pundit, even beyond the questionable practice of having his politician sibling appearing on his show. There was Chris testing positive but busting his quarantine in a famous confrontation on East Hampton, in violation of local lockdowns. Then he staged his reemergence from his own basement as a news event; that was after it was already widely reported he had been traveling. And there was the issue of Andrew Cuomo having created VIP lists for people to get early doses of the vaccine, which included his younger brother. 

Pretty questionable actions, and certainly actionable from the standpoint of the network, now consider this – all of these occurred prior to the current scandal enveloping Chris. It was February when news broke of Andrew's sexual predations, and immediately Chris was being implicated in the furor. Yet, CNN continued their practice with their anchor, which means it practiced inertia. 

After a few weeks of turmoil in the press, Chris was forced to make a statement. It was apparent that the younger Cuomo had been shielding his brother while elevating his public stature, and he was forced to comment on things on the air. 

"You're straight with me. I'll be straight with you. Obviously, I am aware of what is going on with my brother. And obviously, I cannot cover it because he is my brother. Now, of course, CNN has to cover it. They have covered it extensively, and they will continue to do so. I have always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so."

When things were apparently going well for the governor, Chris saw no journalistic problem with covering things, but then as a scandal reared up, he suddenly cowered behind the veil of ethics. CNN took no pains in looking into the matter and assumed it would all dissipate like steam from a coffee mug. Except the attorney general actually conducted an investigation, and more items came to light this summer. It was learned that Chris was far more involved than being a shoulder for his brother in private.

The release of tapes showed Chris Cuomo partaking in phone discussions as the governor's office plotted to address the mounting crisis. Those calls began in February, before Cuomo's heartfelt claim that he would be straight with his viewers. He never alluded to this level of involvement, and when the summer revelations came out, he had to again address the cameras. This time he had to not only apologize to viewers but to his co-workers, especially for putting them in an awkward professional position. Here was Cuomo essentially admitting his actions were over the line of professional ethics.

And still, CNN did nothing. No direct action was taken, no real punishments were issued, and Chris was not even taken off the air. Brian Stelter attempted to show he was addressing the issue head-on, but what he was doing was paving the exit route for his network. When he claimed to have looked into the matter, he said, "What I found was a more complicated story than you might think. This has been a conundrum for CNN that has no perfect answer - no perfect solution." Well, that sure is convenient. 

When the network's own media guru comes out to say something along the lines of the network was just flummoxed about what to do with a never-before-seen issue like this, they became inspired to think this was enough. Brian then looped Fox News into his excuse-fest, noting how when their hosts have had trouble in the past, they were suspended. Brian declared this to be a vacation for them and that Chris had actually faced a true punishment already because CNN had called his involvement "inappropriate."

Seriously. Suggestions of a suspension and investigating the matter were called by Stelter simply "B.S.," but CNN executives publicly saying the equivalent of, "Well, he really should not have done that" was considered punishment. And that was, in fact, sufficient. The network took no further action, and Cuomo has remained a steadfast presence on the network. 

Only now, in the face of a massive exposure of hard evidence, is there an indication that something approaching movement may be taking place. A statement from the network indicates that they are at least concerned about this, for the moment. "We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days." 

This is something that CNN could have been undertaking in February. Chris has repeatedly delivered blatantly false representations of his actions, yet CNN stands back as if they were helpless on the matter. In another statement, this one from Brian Stelter, he again sets the table to indicate CNN was completely surprised by this development. "The scope of how Chris Cuomo aimed to help his brother was more considerable – and that he was more intimately involved – than previously known."

There are two factors leading to that conclusion, and neither looks favorable on CNN. The reason this was not known is that Cuomo was not at all forthcoming about these realities, and the network did little to nothing in regards to looking into the matter. A news network could not be bothered to investigate one of its own journalists. There is no way for this to be spun in a positive light. It is ethically bereft and journalistically embarrassing.

CNN seems oblivious that the continued inaction in regards to Cuomo has had an effect on the character of the network. The permissiveness shown to the likes of Cuomo and Jeffrey Toobin this year means the coverage they provide is impacted. When Stelter and others try to impugn Fox News over journalistic ethics, their calls are impotent considering the integrity damage they have self-inflicted. Instead of addressing the problem and dealing with Cuomo's actions, he is allowed to stay in place, and as a result, so is CNN's diminished import.

And so, spin away does Mr. Stelter. There are all indicators that CNN is not going to be provoked into real action on this matter. Recall this summer, when the scope of Cuomo's involvement was staggering, Brian gave the network a pass, using that wan description of a conundrum that had no perfect solution? With the exposure of a mountain of evidence showing an even deeper involvement than previously known, he reverted right back to that weak assessment. 

"I think those words remain true today." One thing not remaining true is his network's standing. That continues to slide lower with each passing scandal. 

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