American television journalist Chris Cuomo has been suspended by channel CNN. CNN said it suspended Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation”, following new disclosures about how he helped his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the midst of a scandal over sexual harassment allegations, a move that leaves the Warner Media network without the services of its most-watched anchor.
“The New York Attorney General’s office released transcripts and exhibits that shed new light on Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defence. The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions.”
“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly. But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second,” CNN said in a statement.
“However, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew. As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”
Anderson Cooper, who usually anchors CNN’s 8 p.m. hour, was scheduled to fill in for Cuomo during his usual 9 p.m. slot. The network did not provide further details about potential substitutes or fill-in programming, reports variety.com.
A string of messages and communications released yesterday by the Attorney General showed the younger Cuomo actively engaged in tracking down leads about stories that might affect his brother, and speaking regularly with the politician’s senior staffers.
He has on several occasions acknowledged an error in judgement, but said he felt compelled by family ties.
“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,” Cuomo said on air in May. CNN on Monday said it was reviewing the matter.
Despite the controversy, or perhaps because of it, Cuomo has remained CNN’s most popular anchor, drawing bigger audiences than primetime colleagues like Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper or other well-known personae, including Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer.
CNN has defended him for months, even though his actions are viewed as anathema to many practitioners of journalism.
Perhaps CNN’s reluctance to discipline Cuomo came because it encouraged his relationship with his older brother in the not-too-distant past. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the Cuomo brothers became a popular media spectacle when they started doing interviews during the younger brother’s 9 p.m. show, despite long-held conventions among journalists that reporters recuse themselves from a news story when they may face a conflict of interest.
“The early months of the pandemic crisis were an extraordinary time,” CNN said in a statement in February. “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.”
Cuomo’s ascension at the network has been emblematic of the changes it has gone through under the aegis of Jeff Zucker, the TV veteran who was previously CEO of NBC Universal. In a different era, CNN filled 9 o’clock with the more relaxed interview stylings of Larry King.
During Zucker’s tenure, however, and amid the swirl of covering former President Donald Trump, anchors have taken more active stances on news stories while on the air.
Cuomo, who started at CNN as a co-anchor of the morning program ‘New Day’, has seen his profile broaden while he grilled Trump officials and others during minutes-long segments that some times proved so gripping that CNN would skip scheduled commercial breaks in order to give viewers more of his work.
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.
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.
Cuomo’s absence leaves CNN in need of a new plan in primetime.
Cooper has in the past handled two hours during the evenings. And before the Trump news cycle, CNN filled its 9 p.m. slot with new non-fiction series and documentary-style programming. Its ultimate plan may well be determined by whether Cuomo stays or parts ways.