Cuomo spox: Come on, Zucker knew

Let the games begin. In an otherwise somewhat sympathetic treatment of CNN president Jeff Zucker, the Wall Street Journal reached out to Chris Cuomo for his input. A spokesman offered a very strong hint that Cuomo isn’t going to remain silent in his termination:

Everything changed this past week. New information surfaced—including detailed records from the New York attorney general’s office, a report from the law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore and an unrelated allegation of sexual misconduct—that sealed Chris Cuomo’s fate.

Mr. Zucker was taken by surprise by the attorney general’s report, and felt Mr. Cuomo misled him, according to people familiar with the situation. On Saturday he completed a U-turn, firing Mr. Cuomo on a call, one of the people said.

Mr. Cuomo has apologized for advising his brother, who was embroiled in a significant story CNN was covering. A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said in a text message on Sunday: “Mr. Cuomo has the highest level of admiration and respect for Mr. Zucker. They were widely known to be extremely close and in regular contact, including about the details of Mr. Cuomo’s support for his brother. There were no secrets about this, as other individuals besides Mr. Cuomo can attest.”

CNN’s response? They insisted that the man they put and kept on their prime-time air is in fact a habitual liar:

CNN said in a written statement it is disappointed with Mr. Cuomo’s characterization of events. “He has made a number of accusations that are patently false,” the network said. “This reinforces why he was terminated for violating our standards and practices, as well as his lack of candor.”

What does that say about Zucker’s judgment — and CNN’s credibility?

Speaking of credibility, Zucker and his team have tried to pass off Cuomo’s termination as necessary given a supposedly new allegation of sexual harassment “at another network”:

Meanwhile, Mr. Zucker had become aware of another allegation of sexual misconduct against Mr. Cuomo from one of his former colleagues at ABC News. Debra Katz, a lawyer for the former staffer, said her client—who wants to remain anonymous—was motivated to come forward by Chris Cuomo’s on-air statements in support of victims of sexual harassment.

“Hearing the hypocrisy of Chris Cuomo’s on-air words and disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women, my client retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN,” Ms. Katz said in a written statement.

However, unless there’s a second such allegation coming out, this isn’t a “new” allegation nor an unknown issue. ABC News executive producer Shelley Ross accused Cuomo in print at the New York Times in September of grabbing her posterior at a party — in front of her husband, no less:

“Now that I think of it … I am ashamed,” read the subject line of a 2005 email Mr. Cuomo wrote me, one hour after he sexually harassed me at a going-away party for an ABC colleague. At the time, I was the executive producer of an ABC entertainment special, but I was Mr. Cuomo’s executive producer at “Primetime Live” just before that. I was at the party with my husband, who sat behind me on an ottoman sipping his Diet Coke as I spoke with work friends. When Mr. Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock.

“I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,” he said to me with a kind of cocky arrogance. “No you can’t,” I said, pushing him off me at the chest while stepping back, revealing my husband, who had seen the entire episode at close range. We quickly left.

Soon after, I received the email from Mr. Cuomo about being “ashamed.” He should have been. But my question today is the same as it was then: Was he ashamed of what he did, or was he embarrassed because my husband saw it? (He apologized first in his email to my “very good and noble husband” and then to me for “even putting you in such a position.”) Mr. Cuomo may say this is a sincere apology. I’ve always seen it as an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability.

It’s possible that the client represented by Debra Katz is someone other than Ross, even though it seems like a fairly significant coincidence. Nevertheless, Zucker can’t claim to have been caught unaware of allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace by Cuomo. Not unless Zucker only gets his news from CNN, that is. Everywhere else, Ross’ accusation stirred up lots of speculation about Cuomo’s status at CNN, which Zucker could only have missed by spending the last two months in an Altered States-ish sensory deprivation chamber.

Cuomo’s not the only figure in this drama with “lack of candor” as a failing. Even with Cuomo’s lack of credibility, it’s hard to assume he’s lying about what Zucker knew and when he knew it. In this war of words breaking out between Cuomo and Zucker, one can only hope that both men lose.