What’s next — a lecture on fact-checking from The New Republic? Rolling Stone’s notably poor performance on journalistic ethics and narrative journalism in the past notwithstanding, they actually make a very valid point about Chris Cuomo and the stretching of ethics at CNN to the point of complete obliteration.
Of course, it’s a point other critics have made for months, but when you’ve lost Rolling Stone, etc etc etc:
Chris Cuomo hosts a primetime CNN show on which he discusses national political issues. He’s also the brother of Andrew Cuomo, the disgraced former governor of New York who resigned in August in the wake of a damning report detailing several allegations of sexual misconduct. It was a pretty big conflict of interest, especially considering Cuomo the younger was advising his brother on how to weather the scandal. Documents released on Monday by the New York attorney general’s office reveal that Chris was involved more intimately than previously believed.
In an interview with state investigators, Chris said he talked to other journalists about what they were hearing about allegations coming down the pike, and then fed information to Melissa DeRosa, Andrew’s top aide. “I have a lead on the wedding girl,” Chris texted DeRosa days after The New York Times reported that Andrew attempted to kiss a woman at a wedding. The “lead,” which turned out to be false, was that the girl, Anna Rauch, was lying about the encounter.
Maybe Cuomo should get canned over reportorial incompetence. Ryan Bort puts that aside, however, for the real offense:
CNN and Cuomo may have acknowledged that participating in meetings with his brother’s team was inappropriate, but using connections developed through his job as a political commentator to aid one of the nation’s most powerful politicians as he tries to navigate a sexual misconduct scandal represents another level of unethical behavior. It’s the type of below-board, conflict-of-interest dealing that would likely get anyone not named “Cuomo” fired, and which at the very least exacerbates to the public’s waning trust in ostensibly unbiased networks like CNN.
“Ostensibly unbiased”? Er, riiiiight. Not even CNN pretends to be “unbiased,” especially in its prime-time lineup in which Cuomo participates. Unlike Fox and MSNBC, CNN seems more inclined to trot out that conceit, as do ABC, CBS, and NBC, but few if any news consumers see any of the media outlets as a facts-only outlet.
It’s one thing to be biased, especially for a commentator. It’s quite another to be corrupt as a member of the media, and that’s the problem Cuomo and CNN face now. It’s not just the revelations from the New York AG’s report that are at issue either, but the fact that Chris got undisclosed favorable treatment from state officials at the direction of his brother while he promoted Andrew on his show. Eight months ago, I pointed out that this edges up so close to the payola standard that’s it’s impossible to see any daylight between them. That it itself would have resulted in a firing for anyone not blood-related to a popular politician, let alone the cream-puff Cuomo Brothers segments during the early days of the pandemic.
Tom Jones at the journalistic ombud site Poynter also wonders how CNN can keep Cuomo in place after this, though it looks like he will:
We already knew that CNN’s prime-time anchor was involved in helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, combat sexual harassment allegations that eventually forced him out of office. But now, it turns out, Chris Cuomo was even more involved than we originally thought.
And if true, Cuomo cannot possibly keep his job, can he? …
CNN appears to be taking this more seriously than they did earlier this year when questions about a conflict of interest originally surfaced. In a statement Monday, the network said, “The thousands of pages of additional transcripts and exhibits that were released today by the NY Attorney General deserve a thorough review and consideration. We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days.”
Then again, somewhat surprisingly, CNN allowed Cuomo to appear as normal Monday evening on his “Cuomo Prime Time” show. He did not mention Monday’s news.
The Atlantic’s David Graham puts it more succinctly:
Andrew Cuomo’s resignation as governor of New York might have been a godsend for CNN. The network faced a nearly intractable conflict of interest: The governor was a major national figure, but his brother, Chris, was also one of CNN’s prime-time stars. Instead, the fallout from Andrew Cuomo’s departure has made Chris Cuomo’s position untenable. He should resign; if he doesn’t, CNN should sack him. …
The new revelations demonstrate more serious errors of judgment. When Chris Cuomo simply offered advice to staff members, he failed to observe the rules CNN had set for his private behavior. But by gathering information from “sources” and passing it to his brother’s staff, Cuomo committed the more egregious step of directly mixing the journalistic work of calling sources and gathering information with his personal, familial commitments. He was wise not to go further into the realm of “oppo research,” but he still went far beyond the bounds of propriety.
And … does any of that matter to CNN or Jeff Zucker, who will have to make the decision? It hasn’t mattered one whit thus far. Cuomo hasn’t even been suspended, let alone fired, even while taking favors from his brother and not disclosing them while issuing paeans on Andrew’s behalf. These new revelations should cost Chris Cuomo his job, but they’re not worse in terms of ethics violations than everything else that preceded it.
If Chris Cuomo is still on the air by the end of this week, that will tell us everything we need to know about CNN’s commitment to ethics and honesty, as well as its “unbiased” pretensions. But then again, CNN has been telling us that all along by keeping Chris Cuomo on the air for the past year. We can take shots at Rolling Stone and New Republic, but at least they cleaned up their messes.