Should CNN be investigating Chris Cuomo?

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The title question isn’t coming from me, nor any other conservative blogger or frequent critic of cable news or the Cuomo family. It’s being raised by Eric Wemple at the Washington Post. And in some ways, his critique actually winds up being focused more on Brian Stelter and the management of the network than Fredo himself. Stelter seemed to be attempting to question the journalistic ethics involved with the younger Cuomo hosting a show on the network while his brother teeters on the brink of impeachment, lawsuits and possible criminal charges over his alleged sexual harassment and possibly assault on any number of women during his show on Sunday.

Over the course of the show, Stelter raised a number of seemingly valid questions about potential improprieties on Cuomo’s part. But in each instance, he somehow found a reason to bat them away as not representing journalistic failures so much as simply “poor optics.” Wemple does an admirable job of batting down each of Stelter’s arguments, eventually concluding that these are not issues of optics, but rather valid questions of substance.

Actually, there is no optics problem. It’s all substance. The network acknowledged as much earlier this year when it issued a statement scolding Chris Cuomo for having participated in conference calls to assist Andrew Cuomo: “Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo — on-air or behind the scenes. In part because, as he has said on his show, he could never be objective. But also because he often serves as a sounding board for his brother. However, it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.” (Chris Cuomo apologized on air for the lapse.)

More substance: The Post reported in May that Chris Cuomo, in his discussions with his brother’s support group, “encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office, the people [familiar with the conversations] said. At one point, he used the phrase ‘cancel culture’ as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations, two people present on one call said.” (We put several questions before Stelter, who declined to respond on the record; Stelter did ask to interview Chris Cuomo but was turned down.)

Wemple concludes by noting that the New York Attorney General’s investigation and subsequent report focused on Andrew Cuomo, not Chris. (As it rightly should have. The younger brother, at least to my knowledge, hasn’t been accused of any crimes.) He goes on to say that CNN needs to conduct its own investigation of their employee and issue a similar report to the public. He claims to have sent this specific question to the network without receiving a response: “Has CNN taken any steps toward investigating Chris Cuomo’s activities?”

I suppose the question I’m left with here is what specific “activities” of Chris Cuomo aside from what happens on his show would CNN be investigating? He’s reportedly stopped talking about his brother on the air since being chastised for it, so that’s at least something. He’s also no longer being allowed to interview Andrew Cuomo in glowing fashion every week, as he seemed to be doing for a while last year.

Beyond what Chris Cuomo says and does on the air or at least in the offices of CNN, what power would the network have to investigate his “activities?” The only reason we know about the conference calls he took part in with his brother and his staff is that some whistleblowers came forward and talked to the media. That was clearly bad and perhaps deserved more than the relative slap on the wrist that he received, but the issue has been put to bed by CNN’s management. It seems unlikely that they’re going to suddenly mete out more punishment this far down the line for the same offense.

I’m not sure if Wemple is hoping for some sort of fishing expedition by CNN’s management, but the real question in my mind has less to do with investigating Chris Cuomo and more to do with investigating the top management at CNN. The real journalistic “crimes” arising from this incestuous scenario came from allowing Cuomo to ever interview his brother on the air or even cover any news stories relating to him, positive or negative in nature. He’s come out recently and flatly admitted that there is “no way” he could be objective about it. Blood is still thicker than water, or ink, apparently. That may not excuse everything Cuomo has done, but it was CNN’s management that opened the door.