The video, which surfaced Monday night, shows Cuomo threatening a man for calling him “Fredo,” after the fictional character Fredo Corleone from “The Godfather” films.
But the core of the backlash centered on one claim from Cuomo: that calling an Italian person “Fredo” was comparable to using the n-word — an assertion that had many Italian Americans scratching their heads and other critics calling Cuomo out of bounds.
“Are any of you Italian?” Cuomo asked the group of men involved in the confrontation. “It’s an insult to your people. … It’s like the n-word for us.”
The video sparked Trump’s latest criticism of an anchor he has at times singled out for displeasure amid attacks on CNN, one of several media organizations the president often targets as purveyors of “fake news.” The president called Cuomo a “massive failure” on his old morning show earlier this year, and Cuomo has sparred with Trump aides on air.
On Monday night, CNN said it stood by the host.
“Chris Cuomo defended himself when he was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur in an orchestrated setup,” CNN spokesman Matt Dornic said in a statement on Twitter.
Cuomo tweeted on Tuesday that he appreciates the support he has gotten but acknowledges he “should be better than the guys baiting me.”
“This happens all the time these days,” he wrote. “Often in front of my family. But there is a lesson: no need to add to the ugliness; I should be better than what I oppose.”
Earlier in the morning, Trump had taken digs at both Cuomo and CNN.
“I thought Chris was Fredo also,” the president tweeted to his 63 million followers. “The truth hurts. Totally lost it! Low ratings @CNN”
Trump escalated his criticism of Cuomo later in the day.
“Would Chris Cuomo be given a Red Flag for his recent rant?” he tweeted, referencing the gun restrictions Trump expressed support for in the wake of deadly mass shootings. “Filthy language and a total loss of control. He shouldn’t be allowed to have any weapon. He’s nuts!”
And in remarks to reporters, the president compared Cuomo to an animal and took aim at his work on air, saying “he spews lies every night.”
The video, which blew up after being published on a right-wing YouTube channel called “THAT’S THE POINT with Brandon,” captures Cuomo growing agitated and ultimately threatening violence after an unidentified man approaches him and apparently calls him “Fredo.” The host of the channel, Brandon Recor, told The Washington Post that the video was captured at a bar in Shelter Island, N.Y., on Sunday and sent to him by the man in the confrontation, who went up to Cuomo to ask for a picture.
The confrontation appeared to escalate after the man refused to back off from his “Fredo” comment, insisting he didn’t mean to insult Cuomo. The man tells Cuomo mockingly, just after the CNN host compared “Fredo” to the n-word, “You’re a much more reasonable man in person than you seem to be on television.” Cuomo then warns that the two will have “a problem.”
“What are you gonna do about it?” the man asks.
“I’ll f---ing ruin your s---,” Cuomo tells him. “I’ll f---ing throw you down these stairs.”
The man says that Cuomo probably “doesn’t want to do that,” but Cuomo continues by saying, “Take a swing at me. Call me Fredo.”
Cuomo found support in unlikely corners, ranging from rival Fox News host Sean Hannity to onetime White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, while his critics included Trump 2020 campaign representatives and other journalists.
Trump continued to tweet about Cuomo and the recorded encounter in the afternoon, complaining that “when a Conservative does even a fraction of what Chris Cuomo did with his lunatic ranting, raving, & cursing, they get destroyed by the Fake News. But when a Liberal Democrat like Chris Cuomo does it, Republicans immediately come to his defense. We never learn!”
The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. blasted YouTube for removing the viral video — since restored to the site — and on Twitter shared another user’s image of a takedown notice.
“YouTube/Google literally covering up his racism and violent threats,” Trump Jr. wrote in a tweet, echoing his father and other Republicans’ repeated allegations that tech companies have discriminated against conservatives. “You can’t make this stuff up. #StopTheBias”
The president retweeted Trump Jr.'s message Tuesday afternoon. He urged YouTube to put the already-reinstated video back up and lamented the “Rigged & Fake Media.”
YouTube said in a statement that the video was removed by mistake. The company did not immediately respond to questions about when the video was inaccessible and why it was flagged.
“With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it,” YouTube said in its statement. “We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.”
Trump Jr. also criticized Cuomo, saying the anchor has seemed untroubled by the label “Fredo” in the past — when the president’s son was its target.
In recent years, columnists and pundits have compared Donald Trump Jr. and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner to Fredo, making the case that they are the weakest links in the Trump family. In “The Godfather,” Fredo is seen as the less intelligent brother, cowardly and incompetent in the powerful family’s business but desperate for respect from his father. But the Trump family comparisons did not provoke nearly the same debate — even on Cuomo’s show, an observation not lost on conservative critics Monday night.
In January, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas said on “Cuomo Prime Time” that Trump Jr.'s “only call to fame was being his daddy’s son. … He didn’t even make the cut that his brother-in-law and sister did to be part of the Oval Office and the White House staff. Daddy kept Fredo back home.” Cuomo — also the son and brother of powerful men, former New York governor Mario and the state’s current governor, Andrew M. Cuomo (D), respectively ― did not push back.
Trump Jr. took notice.
“Does CNN’s head of PR still think ‘Fredo’ is an ethnic slur after watching this?," Trump Jr. tweeted, linking to video of Navarro’s quote. “Because if it’s the N word for Italians like @ChrisCuomo says, I don’t understand why Chris seems so at ease with someone saying it here.”
He added: “Hey @ChrisCuomo, take it from me, ‘Fredo’ isn’t the N word for Italians, it just means you’re the dumb brother.”
Dornic, the CNN spokesman, responded to Trump Jr. by mocking both of the president’s sons: “Speaking of dumb brothers … cc: @EricTrump.” He did not respond to a request for additional information about the confrontation.
Others who identified as Italian noted that if Cuomo wanted to compare an ethnic slur for Italians to the n-word, there were plenty of worse terms than “Fredo.” But even then, some critics still found placing derogatory words for Italians on the same plane as the n-word to be inappropriate.
“Guys, I’m Italian. ‘Fredo’ is not an ethnic slur,” wrote Emily Zanotti, an editor at the conservative outlet the Daily Wire. “My family actually regularly used Fredo Corleone as an example of what happens when you make bad choices.”
“As someone born in Rome, whose given name at his baptism in St. Peter’s was Marcantonio, who had a relative in the mob, & who loves Roman history as much as The Godfather and Goodfellas, I would like to submit my credentials as an Italian-American,” wrote Politico’s Marc Caputo. “'Fredo' ≠ n-word. Not at all.”
Other observers argued the comment minimized the vile history of the n-word. “Fredo” entered the pop culture canon in 1969 with the publication of “The Godfather” novel and 1972 with the premiere of the movie.
Robbin Simmons, an African American journalist in South Florida, said she had “never heard someone try to equate calling an Italian ‘Fredo’ with calling a black person the n-word.” Journalist Yashar Ali said he was reminded of something Oprah Winfrey said about why the n-word will never lose its painful sting: that the word was “the last thing black men heard” before a lynching. “Nothing is comparable to the n-word,” Ali wrote.
Multiple Trump campaign representatives also pounced on Cuomo for the comparison.
“Did [Chris Cuomo] just say that ‘Fredo’ is to Italians what the N word is to black people?” wrote Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for President Trump’s reelection campaign. She added: “N word is a dehumanizing word used against blacks who endured years of oppression. Fredo is a term from The Godfather, referring to the dumb brother. Equivocating the two is pure racism.”
Cuomo has faced some backlash in the past for minimizing the n-word. In February 2017, he apologized after saying journalists being called “fake news” was “the equivalent of the n-word for journalists, the equivalent of calling an Italian any of the ugly words that people have for that ethnicity.”
He later apologized on Twitter, saying, “I was wrong. Calling a journalist fake — nothing compared to the pain of a racial slur.”
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John Wagner contributed to this report.