CNN fired anchor Chris Cuomo on Saturday after details emerged about how he assisted his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as the politician faced sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.
The network suspended Chris Cuomo earlier in the week to investigate his conduct, after New York's attorney general released details showing he was more involved than previously known in helping to strategize and reach out to other journalists as his brother fought to keep his job.
CNN hired a law firm for the review. The firm recommended Chris Cuomo's termination and CNN chief Jeff Zucker informed the anchor of the decision on Saturday.
Late Saturday The New York Times reported that a lawyer contacted CNN Wednesday with an allegation of sexual misconduct against the CNN anchor. It was unclear what role this allegation played in the younger Cuomo's firing.
Lawyer Debra Katz reportedly told CNN about a client who had an accusation of sexual misconduct against Chris Cuomo. Katz represents Andrew Cuomo accuser Charlotte Bennett. She said the client was a former junior colleague at another network and the accusation was “unrelated to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo matter.”
Katz’s client “came forward because she was disgusted by Chris Cuomo’s on-air statements in response to the allegations made against his brother” including Chris Cuomo’s remark that he has “always cared very deeply about these issues, and profoundly so,” according to the Times report.
The network said that “while in the process of that review, additional information has come to light.” CNN would not discuss that information, or characterize whether it had anything to do with his brother.
“It goes without saying that these decisions are not easy, and there are a lot of complex factors involved,” Zucker said in an email to CNN staff on Saturday.
Cuomo issued a statement on Twitter calling the decision disappointing.
“This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother. So let me now say as disappointing as this is, I could not be more proud of the team at Cuomo Prime Time and the work we did as CNN’s #1 show in the most competitive time slot," he said.
Even with the firing, CNN said it will continue to investigate Cuomo's conduct “as appropriate.”
As women came forward accusing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, his brother, despite being a CNN anchor, pressed sources for information on the accusers and reported back to the governor’s staff on what he was learning.
He was active in helping craft their response to the charges, according to emails and a transcript of his testimony to investigators working for state Attorney General Letitia James. Her office found Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women; the former governor resigned in August to avoid a likely impeachment trial.
Cuomo and CNN have been under fire for months about their anchor's conduct. When it first came to light in May that the anchor had been talking to his brother's advisers, the network acknowledged that he had broken its rules but, as CNN said in a statement upon his suspension earlier this week, “we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second.”
The transcripts released by James this week revealed considerable more detail about Cuomo's involvement — details CNN admitted were a surprise even to them.
While Cuomo has said he never tried to influence CNN's own coverage of his brother, he told investigators for James about his calls to other journalists to find out what information they had about some of his accusers.
Yet in an on-air statement Cuomo gave on CNN following his brother's resignation in August, Cuomo said that “I never made calls to the press about my brother's situation.”
Cuomo also said that he never “attacked, nor encouraged anyone to attack any woman who came forward” with accusations against his brother. According to email transcripts released this week, Cuomo wrote to aides that "I have a lead” on one of the accusers, although it was not clear what he meant.
Things moved quickly this week following the release of the transcripts. CNN took him off the air on Tuesday and suspended him indefinitely, before the firing on Saturday.
“Cuomo Prime Time” has been the network's highest-rated show this year, airing at the 9 p.m. Eastern hour between shows by Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Its ratings have been down in 2021, like they have for most cable news networks during the post-election year.
But it leaves a significant hole in the network's schedule. One former rival is becoming a free agent soon: Brian Williams recently announced he was leaving MSNBC, where he had anchored a nightly news hour, when his contract ends with the end of the year.
There was always a potential of conflict with one Cuomo brother as governor and another as a journalist. But since Chris Cuomo debuted on CNN in 2013 after joining from ABC News, it was always made clear that he would not cover anything that involved his brother.
That changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, when the governor appeared on his brother's show several times, trading familial banter that was entertaining but raised ethical red flags. They were then halted.
A veteran TV executive, Shelley Ross, wrote a column for The New York Times in September saying Chris Cuomo had groped her at a party 16 years ago, when they both worked for ABC News. Cuomo told the newspaper that “I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”
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