Attorneys for a former CNN employee were ready to provide the network with evidence that then-host Chris Cuomo had engaged in sexual misconduct before he was fired over the weekend.
The New York Times reported that attorney Debra S. Katz had informed CNN of the allegation on Wednesday. The network fired Cuomo on Saturday, citing his defense of his brother, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R-NY), who has also been accused of sexual misconduct.
In a statement released on Sunday, Katz revealed that her client had offered to provide CNN with evidence of Cuomo's sexual misconduct on Friday before he was fired.
"By Friday, I was in discussions with CNN about providing documentary evidence of my client's allegations and making my client available for an interview with CNN's outside counsel," Katz said in a statement. "Last night, CNN acted promptly on my client's complaint and fired Mr. Cuomo."
Katz said that she first contacted CNN about the allegations on Wednesday, Dec. 1.
"My client came forward at this time because she felt in sharing her story and related documentation, she could help protect other women," the statement added.
.@DebraKatzKMB Statement Regarding CNN Firing of Chris Cuomo pic.twitter.com/IyQHoyTaib
— KatzMarshall&Banks (@kmblegal) December 5, 2021
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo conceded in March, 2021 that he could not, ethically, cover the sexual harassment allegations against his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The family ties were simply too strong for him to do so independently.
But afterwards, Chris provided behind-the-scenes counsel to his brother and his brother’s team. By August, 2021, when Andrew resigned in the wake of the scandal, there were calls for Chris to step down from his job as well because the New York attorney general’s initial report revealed that he had helped draft a statement for his brother in February. As the adage has it, no one can serve two masters. The CNN anchor who should have been serving the public was secretly putting family loyalty first by helping his brother navigate a political and public relations disaster.
And now CNN has fired Cuomo. The firing happened on Dec. 4, less than a week after the attorney general’s office released pages of transcripts, exhibits and videos from its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Andrew Cuomo. The documents detailed the extensive help Chris Cuomo had been providing to his brother for months.
Viewers of CNN would have known about the cozy familial relationship between the two. In 2020, when Andrew Cuomo was still governor of New York, Chris teamed up with his brother to banter on the cable network about how the state was handling the pandemic. The segments were wildly popular.
Although they raised eyebrows in media ethics circles because Chris Cuomo appeared to be violating fundamental norms of journalistic independence. CNN justified its exception to a conflict of interest rule imposed since 2013 prohibiting the anchor from covering his brother, stating, “Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest.”
And, incidentally, the banter was great for ratings. But the sexual harassment scandal that erupted in late 2020 put an end to all that.
But it did not end the behind-the-scenes conflict.
Chris Cuomo during on air report in front of the Time Warner Building, where police removed an explosive device Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
Public interest above self-interest
As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel – former journalists and now ethics scholars and media watchdogs – have written, “[Journalists] must strive to put the public interest – and the truth – above their own self-interest or assumptions.”
Journalists’ fundamental role in democracy is to hold those in power, especially those in government, accountable. But if they have close relationships with those in power, their independence, or at least the perception of it, can be compromised. Independence coupled with accountability and transparency underpin the public’s trust in journalists.
But goodwill towards Chris Cuomo, who the Washington Post reported was “known for his intense loyalty to the network, its employees and their families,” along with the unwavering support of CNN President Jeff Zucker, helped Cuomo keep his job.
He stayed in it until the Nov. 29 document dump disclosed just how closely the CNN anchor had helped his brother Andrew’s team frame and mount a defense to the accusations. Among the offers Chris made: he would work his own journalistic sources to investigate the credibility of the women who alleged harassment or assault.
At that point, CNN suspended Cuomo “indefinitely.”
“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” CNN said in a statement. “But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second.”
Cuomo’s firing followed four days later.
‘Accountable and transparent’
Was it ethical for the anchor to continue to advise his brother while representing to his viewers that he was keeping his relationship at arm’s length? Should he even have participated in what a Donald Trump campaign spokesman called “the Cuomo Brothers Comedy Hour” at the beginning of the pandemic?
Journalists’ associations have developed ethical codes and guidelines that address this situation.
One of the oldest and best known is the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). News organizations also have their own ethics rules and post them online so that the public can read them. Television networks frequently assign ethics enforcement to their “Standards and Practices” departments.
These codes set out the ethical standards for a news operation.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which says ‘An ethical journalist acts with integrity.’ Society of Professional Journalists
But the word “code” is a misnomer. Although news organizations are free to enforce their provisions on their own staff, they are not intended to create legal obligations to anyone else, as with licensed professions such as law and medicine. The SPJ Code is explicit about this, emphasizing that its code is “not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.”
It does, however, emphasize that conflicts of interest must be avoided, or at the very least, disclosed, to maintain independence and transparency.
In August, the Washington Post quoted from a leaked copy of the network’s “News Standards & Practices Policy Guide,” reporting that “the document mandates that ‘CNN employees should avoid any real obligation or appearance of any obligation to any interest that he/she may be covering or reporting on,’ and ‘should avoid conflicts between personal interests and the interest of the company or even the appearance of such conflicts.’”
That sounds about right, but did CNN enforce those rules with Chris Cuomo? How could the anchor avoid conflicts of interest while pitching softball questions to his brother during the pandemic, much less by providing behind-the-scenes advice on how to deal with the sexual harassment scandal?
Many media commentators say that he couldn’t, and now, CNN seems to agree.
Media columnist Margaret Sullivan said of Cuomo, ‘You don’t abuse your position in journalism…for personal or familial gain.’ Eric Hanson for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Fool me once
Was it unrealistic to expect the Cuomo brothers not to confer in times of crisis? Some news consumers think so, as reader comments on a Nov. 30 New York Times story contended: “One of the biggest draws to CNN is Chris Cuomo & his personalized brotherly banter & friendship with Don Lemon. He reflects what’s right in America. Family & Loyalty.”
Those readers are right that it is a question of loyalty. But they are answering the question differently than many journalists would.
As columnist Margaret Sullivan argued in the Washington Post, “You don’t abuse your position in journalism — whether at a weekly newspaper or a major network — for personal or familial gain.”
Conflicts of interest violate that covenant and undermine public confidence in media independence. Some conflicts of interest are such a problem that no amount of disclosure or disclaimers can cure them. CNN has apparently concluded that Chris Cuomo’s is one of them.This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article
MSNB'sC "The Sunday Show" host Jonathan Capehart had nothing but scorn for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) over her latest complaints that Democrats have been attacking her over her antics.
During a panel discussion with former GOP political consultant Stuart Stevens and ex-Republican National, Committee head Michael Steele, the MSNBC host shared a clip of the combative Taylor Greene sitting with equally-controversial Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and complaining about her treatment.
Speaking with Gaetz, Taylor Greene complained, "Kevin McCarthy has a problem in our conference. He doesn't have the full support to be speaker, he doesn't have the votes that are there because there's many of us that are very unhappy about the failure to hold Republicans accountable while conservatives like me, Paul Gosar, and many others just constantly take the abuse by the Democrats."
"Oh, boo-hoo, so much victimhood here," host Capehart sarcastically commented. "But, Stuart, what she says, again, is not untrue ; Kevin McCarthy has a problem. To my mind his being silent on all these things, he might think it might help him if Republicans get the majority. But if he thinks he can control them, if indeed Republicans become the majority, he's got another think coming, doesn't he? "
"You know, for years when Mike and I were involved in the party, we always said that it was a mistake to try to negotiate with terrorists," Stevens replied. "And that's what Kevin McCarthy's trying to do. If these Republicans take over the House next year, which odds are they are, they're going to put Kevin McCarthy's head on a spike."
"They're not going to elect him speaker," he continued. "He isn't what they want to be. He is like a chairman who wants to make everybody happy and it's not going to work. They want a warrior, somebody like a Jim Jordan, to be Speaker of the House."
MSNBC 12 05 2021 11 05 21 youtu.be