As Jazz noted earlier, reporters have discovered that Andrew Cuomo used his position to give favors to family and friends early in the pandemic. They got personalized medical attention from public-health workers and early access to COVID-19 tests when hardly anyone could access those on their own. That represents an abuse of power and favoritism, especially in the middle of a deadly outbreak, that warrants impeachment if confirmed.
But this is not only Andrew Cuomo’s scandal. The scandal also potentially belongs to CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, one of the beneficiaries of his brother’s conversion of state resources to personal use, and to CNN if they knew about it. The Washington Post reported that Chris was part of this favoritism:
Among those who benefited from the priority testing program was Cuomo’s brother Chris, who was diagnosed with covid-19 in late March of 2020. The CNN anchor was swabbed by a top New York Department of Health doctor, who visited his Hamptons home to collect samples from him and his family, the people with knowledge of the matter said.
Chris Cuomo and CNN spokesman Matt Dornic declined to comment.
Among those who benefited from the special treatment was the governor’s brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, and his family, who were tested several times in the pandemic’s early phase, this person said. (Chris Cuomo announced on March 31 last year that he had tested positive for the virus.)
That the governor’s administration effectively let well-connected people cut the line to determine whether they had been infected with a deadly virus that was ravaging the state was reported earlier by The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., and The Washington Post.
Let’s consider the timing on this. After getting diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March, there would have been little point in getting tested afterward. We can assume, then, that Chris got these favors from his brother entirely in March. Given the rarity of these tests and the near-impossible access to them at the time, there was most definitely a monetary value to these favors, as well as a familial value.
With that in mind, let’s look at what Chris Cuomo and CNN did next. After receiving secret favors from a high-ranking politician, this broadcast host then conducted a two-month public-relations campaign for him on CNN, promoting Andrew as the Love Gov and hailing him as the true national leader for the COVID-19 pandemic.
That amounts to a potential instance of payola, a serious violation of The Communications Act of 1934 and FCC regulations. Anyone who goes into broadcasting knows the rule — you cannot accept a gift from someone and then promote them without disclosing any and all remuneration on the air. Most if not all broadcasters strictly forbid their on-air talent from receiving any kind of gifts from their guests to avoid even the hint of corruption. (One host I know refuses to let anyone else pay the tab for dinners just to make sure he never crosses that line.)
In this case, it’s more likely that Chris promoted Andrew primarily out of filial motives. However, that doesn’t negate the payola regulation, which doesn’t require motive for enforcement. If the station or its employees receive secret compensation and then go on to promote a product or a person, it’s a potential violation and could result in a loss of license.
So … did CNN know about these favors to its host from a politician who would later receive the most obsequiously favorable coverage since Michael Avenatti? As Eric Wemple reported last night, CNN doesn’t seem to feel compelled to answer that question:
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) March 25, 2021
I am happy that Chris Cuomo made a quick and full recovery. But he needs to step forward and detail whatever special treatment he received via his family connection to the NYS government. This is a big story and his own colleagues are competing for it.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) March 25, 2021
If Cuomo didn’t disclose it internally, that would be grounds for termination at most if not all other broadcasters. If he did disclose it internally, then CNN needs to answer for the lack of disclosure of these favors on each and every appearance Andrew Cuomo made, not just on Chris Cuomo’s show but on all of CNN’s other programming as well.
There hasn’t been much discussion of this aspect to the latest Cuomo scandal from other broadcasters. With the field as competitive as it is, CNN can’t hope for that to last too long. One has to wonder which Cuomo will find himself out of work first.