The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Remember when CNN’s Chris Cuomo was a #MeToo champion?

This combination photo shows Chris Cuomo in 2019 and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) in 2020. (AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on Tuesday announced his resignation days after the release of a state investigation finding that he’d sexually harassed female colleagues on the job. “Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing,” said Cuomo in an address. “I cannot be the cause of that.” The resignation will take effect in two weeks.

It’s a move that the governor has been resisting for months, backed by some springtime advice from his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo. According to a May report in The Post, Chris Cuomo took part in strategy discussions with the governor’s advisers. There, he “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.”

Last week’s report released by state Attorney General Letitia James concluded that Andrew Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women — conduct that included allegations of random, creepy and sexually suggestive remarks and multiple instances of groping. What’s more, the report found that the governor’s reliance on outside advisers such as Chris Cuomo — people with loyalties only to Andrew Cuomo and not to the state — was among the factors that “contributed to creating an environment where the Governor’s sexually harassing conduct was allowed to flourish and persist.”

To judge from Chris Cuomo’s on-air pronouncements about sexual harassment, however, he’d never, ever, allow himself to participate in anti-#MeToo activities. In November 2017, for instance, he riffed about seizing on the #MeToo moment: “I just feel like we have an opportunity here. Women are coming forward. We know why they don’t come forward. It’s not because, you know, they’re waiting for the right time,” said the CNN host. “Like they’re trying to play to advantage. They’re afraid. You know, there are ramifications that come. There’s payback that comes. There’s scrutiny that comes. So we have this opportunity where you have this bravery on display.”

Follow Erik Wemple's opinionsFollow

In December 2017, he ranted about the importance of deep-rooted change in workplaces. “It is easier to get rid of somebody than it is to change your culture,” said Cuomo. “And I’ve also got to suffer through me saying this all the time but it’s only because of my concern for real change. I know how those systems work. Forget about the fact that you’re not hearing about the waitress, the administrative assistant, the truly unempowered woman who has to deal with this — the housekeepers, you know, who have to deal with these dynamics.”

February 2018: “You know, we’ve been covering the “#MeToo” stuff very much. Inappropriate behavior at work matters has to change. We haven’t seen the systemic change we need to.”

September 2018: “I think times have changed. I think allegations by women thanks to the #MeToo movement and slowly like tectonic plate cultural change, we now know, everybody has a right to be heard.”

October 2018: Cuomo welcomed actor/producer/activist Alyssa Milano on his show to talk about Brett M. Kavanaugh and #MeToo. The discussion ended with Cuomo emphasizing the importance of women speaking out:

CUOMO: Alyssa Milano, I want to ask you to do me a favor. I got to go right now —
MILANO: Anything. Okay.
CUOMO: But after this happens, the idea that being heard and respected is the new empty phrase like thoughts and prayers. And someone brought that up to me today.
CUOMO: And I’m worried about that, because of all the things we want to make sure we don’t let slip away as progress with our culture. Let’s see how this turns out. And then please, come back on the show and let’s figure out what the result means.
MILANO: Thank you.

So: How does Cuomo’s on-air passion for systemic workplace change and women’s voices square with the “cancel culture” advice that he provided to Andrew Cuomo? We asked him and CNN’s PR shop to comment on that point, among others; we’ll update this post if we receive a response.

On Monday night, Chris Cuomo got some support from a source that may well have him reevaluating certain life choices. “Your loyalty should be to your family above all else, not joking at all,” said Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday night. “Maybe even above your job, maybe even above [CNN Worldwide President] Jeff Zucker. If your brother calls and says I need help, if you don’t give him help because you’re pretending to be a news anchor on some stupid cable channel nobody watches, you’re betraying your brother, and that’s a greater sin than any of the dumb politics they espouse on that channel. Totally true.”

There’s a problem with this logic: Couldn’t Cuomo have expressed plenty of “loyalty” to his brother by lending a supportive ear? Does “loyalty” necessarily mean jumping on a conference call with New York state officials and violating journalistic norms? Of course it doesn’t.

If there’s any broader lesson stemming from this episode, it relates to the cheapness of cable-news talk. Chris Cuomo, after all, sounded sincere and convincing in his appeals about the #MeToo cultural awakening — an evolved, modern man standing up for beleaguered women. Then this awakening came for his brother.