Cuomo Firing Raises Questions About CNN’s Crisis Response

Thom Weidlich 12.09.21


Over the weekend CNN fired star anchor Chris Cuomo. It’s been one of those crises that oozes out in dribs and drabs. It’s unclear if that’s because the network refused to face facts or because it learned new info. Either way, it’s instructive. CNN now accuses Cuomo of lying, and the general feeling is that it was right to fire him. We agree.

Last spring it came out that Cuomo helped his older brother, Andrew, then New York’s governor, respond to a crisis: sexual-harassment allegations. Gov. Cuomo eventually resigned. The network, namely its president, Jeff Zucker, criticized Chris Cuomo for that aid but stuck by him. Still, Cuomo the Elder’s crisis created one for Cuomo the Younger.

In August, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report that underscored Chris Cuomo’s involvement in the governor’s crisis management. Then, on Nov. 29, James released records underpinning her report. They revealed that, in helping his brother, Chris Cuomo sounded out other journalists to get a bead on what stories might be coming out. He also wrote to an advisor to the governor that he had “a lead on the wedding girl” — one of the accusers.

Cause to Fire

CNN suspended Cuomo on Nov. 30. The network hired Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP to conduct a probe. On Dec. 3, the law firm told CNN it had cause to fire Cuomo, according to a Wall Street Journal piece on the mess, which it did the next day. At least two women have also accused Chris Cuomo of sexual misconduct, which he denies.

The WSJ piece emphasizes the close relationship between Zucker and Cuomo, which may have contributed to the employer’s slow response. The story contends that CNN staffers were disappointed in the weak reaction. It also includes the public-statement back-and-forth that has spewed out.

A Chris Cuomo spokesman texted the WSJ that, concerning Zucker and the now-ex-anchor, “There were no secrets about this [Cuomo’s support for his bro], as other individuals besides Mr. Cuomo can attest.” That prompted CNN to fire back: “He [Chris Cuomo] 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.”

Weak Response

The gloves, it appears, are off. But in terms of crisis response, what CNN knew and when it knew it is important. It claims its anchor lied. That may have been one reason its original response was weak. Fair enough. But if it did have deeper dope on Cuomo’s extracurricular activities, it might be right to accuse the network of reluctance to discipline a star. Alas, that’s all too common — and usually a mistake. (On Tuesday, Zucker reportedly told staffers Cuomo won’t get a severance, though he may sue.)

People in journalism (or even in public relations) marvel at how difficult it is for outsiders to grasp the profession’s ethics. They’re often not that complicated. People think, What’s wrong with helping a brother? What’s wrong is that it had the look of bias, of working both sides of the news desk, and that’s a look journalists can’t afford. After all — spoiler alert — CNN was covering the governor’s woes. Maybe it’s not a good idea to have journalists come from political dynasties?

Photo Credit: CNN via YouTube

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