Chris Cuomo, CNN face ethical questions following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s political demise

CNN evening anchor Chris Cuomo
As Chris Cuomo returns to CNN since his brother’s resignation as governor, Northeastern faculty say CNN management and Chris Cuomo himself share blame for a “messy situation.” Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN

Chris Cuomo is expected to be back on the air at CNN this week. Questions still swirl around him following the resignation of his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the role the cable network star played in advising the governor through his political crisis and how the network will handle one of the biggest stories of the year going forward.

Cuomo will likely keep his job, say Northeastern journalism faculty experts Dan Kennedy and Mike Beaudet, even as media watchdog groups and others have called for him to step down or be fired for his involvement with the matter. They say network management and Chris Cuomo himself share blame for a “messy situation” that blurred personal and professional lines between the anchor and his embattled sibling.

Northeastern journalism professors Mike Beaudet (l) and Dan Kennedy (r) think Chris Cuomo’s anchor job at CNN is safe despite the TV star’s involvement in the harassment scandal that brought down his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo courtesy of Mike Beaudet and Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

CNN hasn’t said anything publicly about Cuomo’s status since more information came to light last week about his role in helping Gov. Cuomo respond to harassment charges. The Cuomo Prime Time host was expected to be in his usual 9 p.m. EDT slot on Monday between Anderson Cooper 360 at 8 p.m. EDT and Don Lemon Tonight airing at 10 p.m. EDT. 

Cuomo’s job with CNN “appears to be safe at the moment,” says Beaudet. “But,” he cautions, “this is an evolving situation.”

Kennedy adds that disciplinary action is not likely to materialize unless Cuomo’s boss, CNN President Jeff Zucker, is punished as well, “and that’s not going to happen.”

Chris Cuomo was interviewed as part of the New York attorney general’s investigation and testified that he encouraged his brother to show remorse, and had a hand in writing public statements―actions that raised questions about journalistic boundaries.

“CNN needs to commission a report of its own to determine just how its star anchor fit into this sexual harassment pushback effort,’” wrote Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple.

Chris Cuomo acknowledged that it was a mistake and has apologized on air. He is also facing heat for interviews with the governor in early 2020 when Andrew Cuomo was receiving plaudits for his pandemic press briefings. Gov. Cuomo joked during one interview with his younger brother that he was their mother’s favorite son, and chided Chris as the family “meatball.”

The back-and-forth was a ratings hit with viewers, but the Northeastern professors say the interviews were never a good idea.

“The fault lies entirely with CNN management that saw it as good for ratings,” says Kennedy, a media commentator. He described the on-air interactions between the Cuomos as “mildly inappropriate but entertaining.”

Beaudet says Chris Cuomo himself should have known better than to interview a relative.“He’s a journalist. It’s his program.” The issue is CNN “got caught up in the showmanship of television instead of thinking about the journalism of it,” Beaudet adds. “It should have never happened.”

What he finds troubling is that Chris Cuomo wouldn’t report on the scandal, but then was working behind the scenes to help manage it. Since the governor had been on his show repeatedly, Beaudet believes the show should have covered the scandal with Chris Cuomo disclosing the conflict each time, and then handing off to another reporter to cover the day’s developments.

“Otherwise, you’re ignoring the elephant in the room, an elephant you invited into the room by having the governor on your show,” Beaudet says.

Kennedy says that while it was probably out of bounds for Chris Cuomo to meet with his brother’s advisers, as outlined in the investigative report, there are different expectations of reporters when dealing with family members who may have power and influence.

“It’s easy to say ‘no, it’s not something that journalists should do,’ but we’re talking about the guy’s brother here,” Kennedy says. “We are asking way too much if we think that Chris Cuomo shouldn’t have had conversations with his brother about the scandal.”

CNN management appeared to agree, according to Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent. “They said, ‘Of course, you’re going to talk to your brother,’” Stelter said of CNN brass in a recent appearance on The Late Show hosted by Stephen Colbert.

Given what the public knows about Chris Cuomo’s behind-the-scenes actions on behalf of his brother, it remains to be seen what impact it will have on his show or perceptions of his independence.

Female viewership numbers have declined since the New York attorney general’s investigation, according to a media report. Still, Cuomo Prime Time remains CNN’s top-rated show.

“I don’t really know why viewers would be particularly put off by Chris Cuomo if they liked him before,” Kennedy says. “Ratings come first.”

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