Chris Cuomo is, once again, making headlines instead of delivering them.
CNN said Monday that is was placing new scrutiny on the actions its most popular anchor took when his brother Andrew, the former governor of New York, was facing accusations of sexual harassment that eventually led him in August to give up his role as New York’s top politician.
The WarnerMedia-owned outlet said in a statement that new revelations about how Chris Cuomo aided his brother, released today by the New York State Attorney General, “deserve a thorough review and consideration.” The documents indicate the younger Cuomo’s assistance was more pronounced and significant than previously known, and included the CNN anchor reaching out to sources and doing active research to help his sibling. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Cuomo and his brother became a popular media spectacle when they started doing interviews during CNN’s 9 p.m. program, “Cuomo Prime Time,” despite long-held conventions among journalists that reporters recuse themselves from a news story when they may face a conflict of interest.
Chris Cuomo had previously acknowledged offering counsel and advice to the former governor and his team of advisors, and in August reiterated that he had made a mistake when he engaged in strategy sessions with Governor Cuomo’s advisers, noting on air that he never did so again after telling CNN executives he would not. He still continued to talk to his brother about his situation directly, and as such, never took part in CNN’s coverage of Gov. Cuomo or tried to influence any of it.
“It’s not easy being in this business and coming from a political family,” Chris Cuomo said on CNN in August.
And yet, Monday’s disclosure suggests Cuomo was running down leads for his brother’s team, and communicating his progress in doing so to Melissa DeRosa, then Governor Cuomo’s top aide. Messages and conversations released by the Attorney General show Cuomo pressing to help and offering public statements for his brother to give.
“We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days,” CNN said in a statement.
Cable-news outlets once kept their anchors on a tighter leash. Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough faced discipline at MSNBC after they made political donations, a violation of NBC News policies. But in recent years, some news networks have kept their top personalities on the schedule even when controversy threatened to engulf them.
MSNBC’s Joy Reid in 2018 found herself under scrutiny after the discovery of a group of unsavory, even offensive, posts she made on a blog earlier in her journalism career. She made things more difficult when she claimed that an unknown party had hacked the now defunct blog, and even said at the time she had engaged a cybersecurity expert to find evidence — none of which has ever been brought to public discussion. Her colleague, Lawrence O’Donnell, was forced to retract a report in 2019 in which he alleged Russia had co-signed many of President Trump’s loans. “We don’t know whether the information is inaccurate, but the fact is we do know it wasn’t ready for broadcast, and for that I apologize,” he had to say during one of his MSNBC broadcasts. Fox News’ Sean Hannity, on two different occasions, lent a promotional boost to the campaign of former President Donald Trump, appearing in a campaign video in one instance, and getting on stage at a Trump rally in the other. “Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the Fox Corp.-owned news network said in a statement in 2018. “This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”
Some news executives may be paying as much attention to ratings and relationships as they do to ethics lapses. They are operating in an era when viewership is becoming harder to ensure. More consumers are migrating to streaming, on-demand video, and the trend is manifesting at a tough time for news outlets — in the months following a presidential election, when viewership typically declines noticeably. With that business dynamic in full swing, benching a popular anchor is a more difficult prospect.
Despite the controversy, or perhaps because of it, Cuomo remains CNN’s most-watched anchor. In the third quarter, “Cuomo Prime Time” generated an average of 959,000 viewers, as well as an average of 212,000 among viewers between 25 and 54 — the group most coveted by news advertisers. Those are the biggest audience totals out of all of CNN’s programs.
Cuomo, a former veteran of ABC News, has gained traction since coming to CNN in 2013. His pugnacious on-screen demeanor has become a signature element of CNN under current chief Jeff Zucker, who has given anchors more leeway to bring emotion to their news reporting. Anchors like Don Lemon and Brianna Keilar have thrived at the network by offering more personal reactions to strong stories in the news cycle and sometimes brandishing viewpoints that some critics believe have little place in the down-the-middle journalism outlets like CNN are supposed to embody.
CNN has steadfastly tried to stay out of the fray. In May, the network said it would not discipline Cuomo for his actions, noting that “it was inappropriate” for Cuomo to “engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.”
During a May appearance on CNN, Cuomo tried to explain his position to viewers, noting he routinely put his family ahead of his job. “It was a mistake, because I put my colleagues here, who I believe are the best in the business, in a bad spot. I never intended for that, I would never intend for that, and I am sorry for that,” the anchor said on “Cuomo Prime Time.” He vowed: “It will not happen again.” Even so, the matter continues to surface.