CNN has a problem, and its surname is “Cuomo.”
The cable network broke a key rule of ethical journalism last year when it allowed news anchor Chris Cuomo to make his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a temporary fixture on his prime-time show.
It was bad enough that CNN allowed Chris Cuomo to host his powerful sibling. That the anchor used the interviews specifically to praise New York’s pandemic response, all while building up his older brother as a heroic figure, is inexcusable, especially considering what was happening at the time as the viral outbreak ravaged the Empire State.
Andrew Cuomo now faces an investigation because of his order forcing infectious coronavirus patients into long-term care facilities, which may have killed up to 11,000 people. Laughably, Chris Cuomo now claims he “obviously” can’t report on his brother because, well, it’s his brother.
Sorry, but that ship has sailed. If you’re allowed to cover the governor during the "good" times, you should be required to do the same for the bad. Unless, of course, CNN and Chris Cuomo agree that hosting the New York governor is appropriate only when it benefits the New York governor.
“I can’t cover my brother’s situation because he’s my brother,” the CNN host said Tuesday during his radio program. “It does not have any connection to my decision to have him on before there were any real accountability questions during COVID.”
His claim that he hosted his big brother “before there were any real accountability questions” is a lie. New York's nursing home death rate was already a scandal and a crisis by the time that the governor’s appearances on CNN became part of a regular routine. In fact, Andrew Cuomo’s frequent appearances on the cable network continued even after other newsrooms discovered significant leadership failures by his office. ProPublica, for example, reported on May 16 that the constant fighting, one-upmanship, and “childish” intrastate “cold war” between Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was largely responsible for the state’s overall bungling of its pandemic response. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, published a report on June 11 that likewise found that the governor’s endless squabbling with de Blasio resulted in an uncoordinated effort of patient transfers. The Wall Street Journal also discovered that insufficient isolation protocols resulted in infected patients being mixed with uninfected patients, spreading the virus.
And that's to say nothing of the fact that New York has been a leader in COVID-19 deaths and per-capita death rates since the virus arrived in the United States.
There were plenty of reasons last year at the outset of the pandemic for CNN to scrutinize the governor. Yet, between March 19 and June 24, Andrew Cuomo appeared on his brother’s show nine times, each interview softer, friendlier, and more obsequious than the last.
In Andrew Cuomo’s final appearance on his little brother’s show in June, the governor got a hero's send-off.
CNN, for its part, defends its decision to turn over Chris Cuomo’s show to the governor’s office.
“The early months of the pandemic crisis were an extraordinary time,” the network told me in a recycled statement. “We felt that Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest.”
It added, “As a result, we made an exception to a rule that we have had in place since 2013 which prevents Chris from interviewing and covering his brother, and that rule remains in place today. CNN has covered the news surrounding Governor Cuomo extensively.”
Again, this ignores that Andrew Cuomo was the toast of CNN prime time programming even despite the scandal involving New York’s nursing home death rate. It also ignores the fact that the Cuomo-Cuomo power hour, which involved a lot of giggling, familial inside jokes, and even discussions about the governor's eligibility as a bachelor, took place at the same time that other, more competent news outlets reported a pattern of ineptitude and dysfunction in New York's COVID-19 response.
CNN did not respond to my follow-up request for comment.
On Tuesday, Chris Cuomo defended his decision to host his brother.
“I get why the media didn’t like the decision then. They just didn’t say as much because it was so popular,” Cuomo said. “But the idea that you don’t think I should have had him on and now, therefore, I should have him on? That is illogical.”
No, not quite. Forcing Chris Cuomo to cover his brother’s scandals — remember, the governor also stands accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct — would be the equivalent of making the cable host smoke the entire pack. You started it. You have to finish it.
“I’m not going to do it,” he declared on Tuesday.
Earlier, on CNN, he said he is “obviously” aware of what is going on with the governor.
“And obviously, I cannot cover it because he is my brother,” he said.
Just so we understand what Chris Cuomo and CNN are saying: It was OK when the governor used his little brother’s show last year as a personal public relations office, even as the bodies stacked up in New York. It's only now that the governor faces an investigation for his mishandling of the pandemic that it would be inappropriate for Chris Cuomo to report on his brother.
CNN has a real problem on its hands. And it’s one of its own making.