CNN anchor Chris Cuomo admitted in March, 2021, that he morally cannot cover up the sexual assault allegations against his brother, Andrew Cuomo of New York Gov. Family ties were too strong for him to do so independently.
But later, Chris gives behind-the-scenes advice to his brother and his brother’s team. As of August 2021, when Andrew resigned in the wake of the scandal, Chris was also asked to step down from his job as the New York Attorney General’s preliminary report revealed that he had helped draft a statement for his brother in February. As the saying goes, no one can serve two masters. The CNN anchor who should have served the public was first keeping family loyalty a secret by helping her brother navigate the political and public relations disaster.
And now CNN has fired Cuomo. The firing took place on December 4, when the Attorney General’s office released pages of tapes, demonstrations and video of an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Andrew Cuomo. The documents detailed that Chris Cuomo had been providing extensive support to his brother for months.
CNN viewers would be aware of the cordial family relationship between the two. In 2020, when Andrew Cuomo was still the governor of New York, Chris joined his brother on a cable network to talk about how the state was dealing with the pandemic. The segments were wildly popular.
However, he raised eyebrows in media ethics circles as Chris Cuomo appeared to be violating fundamental norms of journalistic freedom. CNN justified an exception to the conflict of interest rule imposed since 2013 that barred the anchor from covering her brother, “Chris spoke with his brother about the challenges that have faced millions of American families. were struggling, which were of vital human interest.”
And, incidentally, the joke was too good for ratings. But the sexual harassment scandal that erupted in late 2020 put an end to all that.
But that didn’t end the behind-the-scenes conflict.
above public interest
As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel – former journalists and now ethics scholars and media watchdogs – wrote, “[Journalists] One must strive to put the public interest – and the truth – above one’s own self-interest or perceptions.”
The fundamental role of journalists in a democracy is to hold those in power, especially those in government, accountable. But if they have close ties with those in power, their independence, or at least the perception of it, may be compromised. Independence, along with accountability and transparency, strengthens public trust in journalists.
But goodwill to Chris Cuomo, who was reported by the Washington Post, “was known for his intense loyalty to the network, its employees and their families,” with the unwavering support of CNN President Jeff Zucker, giving Cuomo his job. helped to maintain.
He remained in it until a November 29 document dump revealed how closely the CNN anchor had helped his brother Andrew’s team frame and defend the allegations. Among the proposals Chris made: He would work on his own journalistic sources to investigate the credibility of women who alleged harassment or assault.
At the time, CNN suspended Cuomo “indefinitely”.
“When Chris admitted to us that he advised his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we publicly acknowledged it,” CNN said in a statement. “But we also appreciated his unique position and understood his need to put family first and job second.”
Cuomo’s firing took place five days later.
‘Accountable and transparent’
Was it ethical for the anchor to continue advising his brother while representing his audience that he was keeping their relationship away from each other? Should they also have attended what Donald Trump’s campaign spokesman called “Cuomo Brothers comedy hour” at the start of the pandemic?
Journalist associations have developed ethical codes and guidelines that address this situation.
The Code of Conduct of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is one of the oldest and best known. News organizations also have their own ethics rules and post them online so the public can read them. Television networks often delegate ethics enforcement to their “Standards and Practices” departments.
These codes set ethical standards for news handling.
But the word “code” is a misnomer. Although news organizations are free to impose their provisions on their own employees, they are not intended to create a legal obligation to anyone else, as is the case with licensed professions such as law and medicine. The SPJ Code is clear about this, emphasizing that its code “is not, nor can it be, legally enforceable under the First Amendment.”
However, it emphasizes that conflicts of interest should be avoided, or at least disclosed, in order to maintain independence and transparency.
CNN has admitted that Chris Cuomo “broke our rules.” But the rules are not posted on CNN’s website. In fact, CNN has fought to keep him a secret.
In August, the Washington Post quoted from a leaked copy of the network’s “News Standards and Practice Policy Guide” that “the document mandates that ‘CNN employees bear no liability or any liability for any should avoid the presence of liability that he/she may be covering or reporting,’ and ‘avoiding a conflict between personal interests and the interests of the company or even the presence of such conflicts.'”
It sounds right, but did CNN enforce those rules with Chris Cuomo? How can the anchor avoid conflicts of interest by posing softball questions to his brother during the pandemic, much less by offering behind-the-scenes advice on how to deal with a sexual assault scandal?
Several media commentators say he couldn’t do that, and now, CNN appears to agree.
fool me once
Was it unrealistic to expect the Cuomo brothers not to give presents in times of crisis? Some news consumers think so, as readers’ comments on a New York Times story on November 30 argued: “One of CNN’s biggest highlights is Chris Cuomo and his personal brotherhood and friendship with Don Lemon. That’s what’s right in America. Family and loyalty.”
Those readers are right that it is a question of loyalty. But he is answering this question differently than many journalists.
Kovach and Rosenstiel wrote that journalists’ “first loyalty is to citizens,” and in their book The Elements of Journalism, call this an “implicit covenant” with audiences.
As columnist Margaret Sullivan argued in the Washington Post, “You don’t abuse your position in journalism—whether in a weekly newspaper or on a large network—for personal or family gain.”
Conflicts of interest violate that covenant and undermine public confidence in media freedom. Some conflicts of interest are such a problem that no disclosure or disclaimer can fix them. CNN has apparently concluded that Chris Cuomo is one of them.