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Could Chris Cuomo end up back on the air? ‘I wouldn’t be surprised,’ say journalism professors

Fired from CNN, Chris Cuomo may well resurface at another network. 'People make comebacks all the time,' says Northeastern journalism professor Mike Beaudet. Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Turner

Chris Cuomo was axed over the weekend from his primetime slot at CNN. Could he wind up back on the air at another network?

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” says Northeastern journalism professor Meg Heckman. “If you just look at the many ways that Cuomo crossed the line in terms of journalistic independence—and I’m not even talking about objectivity—but just basic independence and avoiding conflicts of interest, he crossed a line and lost all credibility and trust.”

“That said, he’s a celebrity, and celebrity can really impact the way that certain media personalities are viewed. We’ve seen far too many examples of powerful men accused of really awful things landing on their feet,” she says.

“People make comebacks all the time,” adds Mike Beaudet, an investigative television reporter in the Boston market and a professor of the practice at Northeastern. “I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we see him surface somewhere.”

‘All of our students are required to take an entire course on ethics,’ says journalism professor Mike Beaudet, left. Meg Heckman, right, whose research focuses on gender diversity in the news business, says news organizations have historically failed to cover sexual misconduct allegations. ‘The Harvey Weinstein story is a great example.’ Courtesy Photo and Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

For now, though, Cuomo’s credibility as a reporter has likely taken a hit over allegations that he violated journalistic norms by helping his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, battle mounting charges of unwanted physical contact involving women.

Chris Cuomo was interviewed as part of the New York attorney general’s investigation and testified that he had a hand in writing his brother’s public statements. He acknowledged earlier this year that it was a mistake and apologized on air.

But then he was suspended by CNN last Tuesday after additional documents showed that he was more involved in his brother’s defense than he had acknowledged to his bosses at CNN. Less than a week later, the cable network fired its star following an investigation conducted by a law firm that it said had turned up “additional information” about him.

“Chris Cuomo was suspended earlier this week pending further evaluation of new information that came to light about his involvement with his brother’s defense,” CNN said in a statement. “We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately.” The network did not provide details on the review’s findings.

Chris Cuomo tweeted in response to the termination: “This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother.” His Twitter account still had him listed as “CNN Anchor” days later.

“He crossed a clear ethical line because he’s using his position as a reporter to try and influence the outcome of a news story,” explains Beaudet. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your relative or not. You can’t do that.”

Ethics lessons are mandatory in journalism programs at Northeastern and at other schools around the country. “All of our students are required to take an entire course on ethics, but then in all of our classes we’re always talking about ethics,” says Beaudet. “It’s built into the curriculum.”

Ethical lapses aren’t necessarily a career-killer. Brian Williams admitted in 2015 that he had not been truthful about taking enemy fire while aboard a helicopter during an assignment covering the Iraq war. The scandal led to his suspension and eventual departure from NBC Nightly News after more than a decade as the show’s anchor.

Williams re-emerged on the air in 2016 but in a less visible role as the host of a late night show on MSNBC. He is leaving that job at the end of the year to spend time with friends and family. He hasn’t ruled out another media gig—“I’ll pop up again somewhere,” he has said.

Dan Rather was a familiar face to millions as the host of the CBS Evening News before a controversial report about President George W. Bush’s military service ended his anchor career with the network. An independent investigation determined that Rather disregarded “fundamental journalistic principles.” The now 90-year-old Rather currently hosts a satellite radio program.

With Cuomo now off the air at CNN, his absence leaves a prime 9 p.m. slot open between Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. The network should consider a woman for the role, says former CNN on-air reporter Brooke Baldwin, who left the network earlier this year.

“I would like to see CNN put a woman in that 9 p.m. spot,” she said in an Instagram video. “Not me, I’ve moved on, but there are plenty of brilliant women they could choose from.”

When she left the network earlier this year, Baldwin said: “The most influential anchors on our network, the highest-paid, are men,” in a podcast. “My bosses, my executives, are men. The person who oversees CNN day side is a man, and my executive producer for 10 years is a man. So I’ve been surrounded by a lot of men.”

That’s part of the reason why news organizations have historically failed to cover sexual misconduct allegations, explains Northeastern’s Heckman.

“The Harvey Weinstein story is a great example,” she says of the former film producer convicted of sexual assault. “Some of that has to do with the way that institutions of all kinds protect white men in traditional seats of power and tend to dismiss and marginalize the experiences of women, particularly women of color.”

Heckman’s research includes a focus on gender dynamics in the news industry. She says that despite the fact that journalism and mass communications classrooms have been filled predominantly with women for decades, the field remains overwhelmingly white and male.

“That’s especially true when we look at newsroom leadership positions—who decides what stories get covered, where they get placed, and how much they get promoted.”

“When it comes to systemic sexism and racism,” Heckman adds, “news organizations have the potential to be part of the solution, and they have the potential to be part of the problem. Sometimes they’re both of those things at the same time.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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