Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” attempted a demonstration of journalistic independence on his Sunday program. In light of last week’s report from New York’s attorney general documenting Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment, Stelter discussed the status of his colleague, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who served as an informal adviser to his brother as the accusations piled up earlier this year. That conflict of interest, Stelter noted, has muted Chris Cuomo on his brother’s mounting troubles; the 9 p.m. anchor is staying away from coverage of the report’s aftermath.

As for the rest of CNN? “I found absolutely no sign that Chris having a show at 9:00 [p.m.] affects the rest of the day,” Stelter said.

Well, it surely has affected “Reliable Sources,” where Stelter whitewashed the whole mess on Sunday in a way that had to delight the network’s PR operation. Let’s take Stelter’s wet kisses one by one:

What I found is a more complicated story than you might think. This has been a conundrum for CNN that has no perfect answer, no perfect solution. Some think CNN made it worse by letting Chris interview his brother when covid-19 was ravaging New York. But that was an unprecedented time period.

There is nothing at all “complicated” about the story. CNN flouted journalistic ethics in spring 2020 when it allowed Chris Cuomo to host his brother about a dozen times in flattering gab sessions — and then, when the governor’s covid-19 and sexual harassment scandals piled up in early 2021, the network somehow tracked down its internal guidelines and banned Chris Cuomo from covering his brother. That switcheroo is what is unprecedented.

A famous family in the news. A governor who soared to the highest heights last year now soaring to the lowest lows, self-inflicted wounds. And a brother who just wants to do his job, just wants to anchor his show, but can he? That’s the key question.

Wrong. Chris Cuomo did not just want to anchor his show; he wanted to anchor his show and celebrate the wondrous feats of Andrew Cuomo. The host told his brother in June 2020: “Obviously, I love you as a brother; obviously, I’ll never be objective; obviously, I think you’re the best politician in the country. But I hope you feel good about what you did for your people because I know they appreciate it.”

Well, this week, Chris showed that he can [anchor his show]. He tuned out the family drama and led compelling interviews during “Cuomo Prime Time,” all while dealing with has to be one of the hardest periods of his adult life. Viewers wanted to see him on TV. And let’s be honest, this is TV. It’s not a totally irrelevant factor. Chris had the highest rated hour on CNN on Tuesday, on Wednesday and again on Thursday

We at the Erik Wemple Blog are trying to remember the last time that Stelter excused some atrocity at Fox News by pointing to the network’s killer ratings.

CNN is so much bigger than any one anchor. What really matters most is how CNN, as a global news outlet, covers the governor’s alleged crimes.

Again: Has Stelter ever applied that same logic to Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity?

I want you all to know, it’s not like Chris is walking around the New York Bureau newsroom hanging out with the reporters who are covering the story. He works several floors away. He doesn’t have that kind of interaction. Still, there is an optics problem. And that’s why I’m dedicating so much time to this here on the show.

Actually, there is no optics problem. It’s all substance. The network acknowledged as much earlier this year when it issued a statement scolding Chris Cuomo for having participated in conference calls to assist Andrew Cuomo: "Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo — on air or behind the scenes. 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.” (Chris Cuomo apologized on air for the lapse.)

More substance: The Post reported in May that Chris Cuomo, in his discussions with his brother’s support group, “encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office, the people [familiar with the conversations] said. At one point, he used the phrase ‘cancel culture’ as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations, two people present on one call said.” (We put several questions before Stelter, who declined to respond on the record; Stelter did ask to interview Chris Cuomo but was turned down.)

Another non-optics problem for CNN emerges from the attorney general’s report itself: The fellow to whom Chris Cuomo provided crisis-management advice has spent years, per the testimony of his own employees, ruining women’s careers with his sexually suggestive comments and his groping mitts. The 168-page report is redundant and tedious, through no fault of its drafters; the governor reportedly repeated his abusive behavior with victim after victim. According to the document, with “Executive Assistant #1,” Andrew Cuomo behaved as a hugging predator, once reaching under her blouse to grab her breast; with “Trooper #1,” Andrew Cuomo ran his finger down her spine while she stood in front of him in an elevator and said, “hey you"; with staffer Charlotte Bennett, he bizarrely seized on her history as a sexual assault survivor: “You were raped, you were raped, you were raped and abused and assaulted," the governor allegedly said; with “State Entity Employee #1,” Andrew Cuomo "took his hand and double tapped the area where [State Entity Employee #1’s] butt and [her] thigh meet,” and then moved his fingers upward to “kind of grab that area between [her] butt and [her] thigh.”

Such abridgments fail to convey the horror and persistence of Andrew Cuomo’s alleged misogyny. Read the report in full.

The governor has responded to the allegations with “expressions of contrition, followed by denials and defiance,” as the report points out.

More relevant to CNN’s leadership is the link between the involvement of people such as Chris Cuomo and the miserable work culture of the state’s so-called “executive chamber.” The loyalties of such outside advisers, notes the report, channeled directly to Andrew Cuomo — not to the public interest or the state government, and certainly not to the sexual harassment victims. That dynamic was one of several factors that “contributed to creating an environment where the Governor’s sexually harassing conduct was allowed to flourish and persist,” reads the report.

Again: That’s far more than an optics problem for CNN.

The AG report, of course, focuses on Andrew Cuomo’s conduct, not Chris Cuomo’s. That’s why CNN needs to commission a report of its own to determine just how its star anchor fit into this sexual harassment pushback effort. What, precisely, did he say in the conference calls? Was he aware that the executive chamber had provided false information to the Albany Times-Union as the paper explored the predicament of “Trooper #1”? What role did he play in the governor’s denials?

Some context here: In July, the New York Times discovered that it had a conflict-of-interest problem on its hands: A sportswriter had agreed to co-write a book with Michael Phelps, even as she was writing laudatory coverage of the Olympic star. So the newspaper launched a full-on investigation, and the reporter resigned from the paper.

The line-crossing behavior of Chris Cuomo makes the Times example look like ethical Silly Putty. Which is why we asked CNN point-blank: Has CNN taken any steps toward investigating Chris Cuomo’s activities?

No response yet.