For some CNN insiders, the latest scandal surrounding Chris Cuomo is a disappointment, but ultimately one that will “blow over” given the primetime star’s exalted status at the network.
Multiple network insiders—including current on-air talent and staffers along with recently departed employees—expressed to The Daily Beast that last week’s bombshell news that Cuomo coached his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in strategy calls on how to respond to sexual-harassment allegations was journalistically and morally unethical and that he should face stronger punishment than the slap on the wrist he seemed to receive from CNN.
Among the revelations in last week’s Washington Post report was the news that the CNN host told the embattled governor to “take a defiant position” amid his growing sexual-misconduct scandal. The network’s public response was meek at best.
“Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo—on air or behind the scenes,” the network said in a statement. “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,” the network continued, adding that he would not be disciplined further.
“I’m very disappointed in the network,” one current CNN female on-air talent told The Daily Beast. “I think some disciplinary action, at a minimum, was required in this situation.” The on-air talent conceded that the younger Cuomo “was always put in an untenable position,” given his job, but ultimately, she said, “I don't think there were enough guardrails” to prevent this sort of scandal.
“As a woman who works here, I feel a little let down, to be honest,” this on-air personality said.
“Chris Cuomo’s concern for his brother is admirable but working to discredit the multiple women who have accused Andrew Cuomo of sexual impropriety is both journalistically and morally immoral,” added another insider, a regular on-air guest.
Indeed, as CNN’s media reporter Oliver Darcy reported last Thursday, the Cuomo revelations “vexed staffers inside CNN,” with “multiple CNN staffers” claiming to have been bothered by both the anchor’s conduct and the “violation of traditional journalistic standards.”
CNN insiders, meanwhile, noted to The Daily Beast that issues surrounding Cuomo—especially regarding how he covers his politically powerful brother—have been brewing for a while, reaching a tipping point well before it was revealed that the CNN host advised the governor to invoke “cancel culture” to combate multiple sexual-harassment allegations.
“It’s disgusting,” another CNN insider, a recently departed producer, said to The Daily Beast. “They can’t really punish him now because last year when he was interviewing his brother and they were yukking it up, CNN loved it. They never ever should have had that happen. It was a complete letdown of journalistic ethics then. It's very Fox [News]-like behavior.”
Another insider declared that ultimately “it doesn’t matter” what he advised his brother on because it was “bad enough that he was allowed to interview his brother so often” during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Chris has for a long time considered himself an ad hoc consultant to his brother,” another current CNN on-air personality lamented. “The lines have always been blurred.”
Beginning in 2013, CNN instituted a rule prohibiting Cuomo from interviewing or covering his brother. The network relaxed that rule at the beginning of the pandemic, claiming there was a “significant human interest” in what ultimately became the brothers’ chummy and joke-filled primetime on-air chats. CNN later reinstituted the ban when the gubernatorial brother faced intense scrutiny and criticism over the scandal alleging his aides deliberately undercounted nursing home COVID deaths.
One network insider pointed out that CNN’s media reporting unit, which includes Darcy and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter, will often rightly target Fox News for disregarding journalistic ethics while “their own network is doing the same exact thing.” And Stelter, for his part, did address the scandal at length on his Sunday media broadcast, pointing out that Cuomo did apologize on air for placing his CNN colleagues in a “bad spot” before wondering aloud whether the network should further punish the host.
“If Chris Cuomo wants to call into strategy sessions with his brother’s aides, shouldn’t he just take a leave of absence from CNN? Is that the right solution in the future?” Stelter asked.
As for Cuomo’s on-air apology, which found the anchor insisting that this “will never happen again” and that he “knows where the line is,” some insiders found it lacking and far from satisfactory.
“I’m not satisfied with his apology,” the CNN female on-air talent declared. “I thought that was really tone-deaf and useless. He didn't apologize for the worst part—you know, the coaching someone out of sexual harassment. That's the worst part. He didn't say, ‘I stand with women and I believe accusers’… He didn’t say that because he couldn’t.”
Others wondered why Cuomo continues to seem especially untouchable, even after other more powerful media men have gotten the boot for poor judgment or various on-air controversies. CNN itself has booted other on-air personalities for transgressions including inflammatory tweets or political comments. Notably, the network just axed longtime senior political commentator Rick Santorum for dismissive, racist remarks about Native Americans—though it took several weeks of intense pressure to get him removed.
Former CNN host Reza Aslan, who was fired and had his travel series Believer canceled in 2017 after calling then-President Donald Trump a “piece of shit,” pointed the finger at CNN President Jeff Zucker for the disparity in punishments for various network controversies.
“You know [Zucker] has some very real, very obvious biases that he has had, regardless of where he's been. And that he’s brought to CNN with him,” Aslan told The Daily Beast. “I mean, the enormity of the outcry and the criticism that it took to finally get rid of Rick Santorum is a perfect example of that.”
Some network insiders noted that Cuomo’s status as one of the network’s most-watched hosts may play a role in what sort of repercussions he would face from on high.
“There’s a similarity to the #MeToo stuff in the sense they seem to think these guys are not replaceable so they let them get away with these things,” one of the CNN insiders said. “We should have learned from a business perspective that all of these people are replaceable,” this person added, noting that, for example, Fox News has continued on without its one-time ratings leader Bill O’Reilly.
“I’m not hoping for [Cuomo] to be canceled. I just don’t think, from a business perspective, the network can keep protecting him and his relationship with his brother much longer,” the female on-air star said.
Women’s advocacy group UltraViolet called for Cuomo to be suspended, specifically citing how because the CNN host consulted his brother to “denigrate survivors of abuse by defining their calls for accountability as ‘cancel culture,’” the network should now have “serious questions about how Chris Cuomo covers all sexual harassment allegations.”
Some network insiders echoed such concerns, with one wondering how CNN will handle the awkwardness of Cuomo inevitably covering another celebrity or politician accused of sexual misconduct.
“Is there just going to be an hour-long blackout every night because Chris Cuomo can't cover it?” asked one insider. “It just feels untenable to me and a very solvable problem that, apparently, the network is not willing to consider.”
Ultimately, insiders who spoke with The Daily Beast said Cuomo will “not be held accountable” by the network.
“This will blow over because there aren’t enough people in the building to be outraged,” said the longtime CNN on-air personality.
“The Andrew and Chris personal/professional relationship lines have already been blurred in the past without retaliation from CNN, so why should this be any different?” another current CNN staffer said.
And Aslan, who was fired for off-air comments about Trump, did not mince words when asked whether Cuomo would ever face a similar fate.
“Fuck no!” he exclaimed “Absolutely not. Maybe he’ll get a phone call, you know, a little sort of slap on the wrist but, no, absolutely not. I don’t see that happening at all.”