The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion CNN hypocritically blames Chris Cuomo for ‘violating our standards and practices’

CNN and Chris Cuomo have parted ways, but the network and correspondent differ over the details of his actions. (Kevin Hagen/AP)

CNN announced the firing of anchor Chris Cuomo just after 5 p.m. on Saturday, as much of the country was fixated on consequential college football games. If CNN executives were trying to bury the news, they miscalculated.

The story deepened on Sunday, as the network and the anchor exchanged barbs. At issue is the extent of Cuomo’s involvement in the political pushback against the sexual-harassment allegations against former New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Though The Post reported in May that Chris Cuomo had participated in strategy calls, more details spilled from the New York attorney general’s disclosures a week ago.

A spokesman for Chris Cuomo scoffed at any notion that documents released by the attorney general surprised network executives, including CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker. “Mr. Cuomo has the highest level of admiration and respect for Mr. Zucker,” the spokesman noted to the Wall Street Journal. “They were widely known to be extremely close and in regular contact, including about the details of Mr. Cuomo’s support for his brother. There were no secrets about this, as other individuals besides Mr. Cuomo can attest.”

With the “no secrets” statement, Chris Cuomo is essentially alleging that management knew all the ins and outs of his work with Andrew Cuomo’s aides in the New York state executive chamber. That’s hard to believe, considering that the attorney general's documents depict Chris Cuomo using his media contacts to monitor upcoming stories on his brother and following a “lead” on one of the governor’s accusers. A review of the matter by the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore concluded that Chris Cuomo “had been much more deeply involved than we had ever known and than he’d ever told us,” Zucker said on Monday morning in a call with CNN employees, according to a source. (CNN’s firing announcement on Saturday afternoon — it had already suspended the host — also noted that “additional information” had surfaced regarding Chris Cuomo in the midst of the review by Cravath.)

The network lashed out at its former prime-time anchor in a Sunday statement: “He has made a number of accusations that are patently false. This reinforces why he was terminated for violating our standards and practices, as well as his lack of candor.”

That’s precious: CNN management is pointing the finger at Chris Cuomo for “violating our standards and practices.” Let’s just take an inventory of the standards-and-practices violations that CNN management either perpetrated, blessed or tolerated:

*Preferential treatment: In late March 2020, the Times-Union (Albany) and The Post reported that Chris Cuomo and family members got special access to coronavirus testing by virtue of their connection to the governor. A New York state health official even visited Chris Cuomo’s home in the Hamptons to swab him — a straight-up no-no for a journalist.

How did CNN view the infraction? “We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees,” said a CNN spokesman. “However, it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would.”

*Conflict of interest: Chris Cuomo hosted his brother around a dozen times on his prime-time CNN program last year. CNN management approved this obvious ethical lapse. “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,” noted a CNN statement.

*Political activism: Following revelations that Chris Cuomo had participated in strategy sessions with Andrew Cuomo’s executive staff, CNN did issue a scolding statement, saying it was “inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff.” It declined, however, to discipline the anchor.

After an attorney general report confirmed Chris Cuomo’s actions, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter shilled for his colleague: “I don’t think — if we open up the journalism ethics book, there’s no page for this,” said Stelter. In fact, there are several pages “for this.”

There’s a corporate trend line to all the Chris Cuomo mayhem over the past week: Keep the focus on the anchor himself, and not so much on Zucker and his lieutenants. The five official statements released in that period sidestep management’s complicity in Chris Cuomo’s demise. In discussing the news on CNN’s air on Saturday, Stelter said, “Chris Cuomo, one of the most popular anchors at CNN, one of the best known names in television news, violated journalistic ethics and norms not once or twice, but many times. And that’s ultimately what is the result of today’s news.”

The scale of Chris Cuomo’s misdeeds should not be diminished. They were certainly lapses on a grand scale. But make no mistake: he had accomplices.