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Last week, critics on both the Right and the Left called for CNN to suspend or fire news anchor Chris Cuomo for giving his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), counsel amid accusations of sexual harassment.
The Right despises Chris Cuomo, who has excessively and unfairly shamed their views and their political representatives since he took a role in primetime. In their minds, he had it coming.
Meanwhile, the Left, former supporters of both Cuomo brothers, are both ruthless and opportunistic. They say and believe what is easiest and most advantageous to them at any given moment. To maintain their stance of “believe all women,” liberals now shun Andrew Cuomo and his brother, despite their previous support for them.
Most of these criticisms of Chris Cuomo are accurate. He certainly would not suggest patience or goodwill, should a Fox News host ever do the same thing, and his behavior raises further doubts about CNN as a serious news outlet. All of these statements are true.
So is the following comment: By helping his brother in a time of need, Chris Cuomo had put his family first.
I’m not writing this to defend Chris Cuomo. I don’t care for Cuomo’s commentary. He’s arrogant, bombastic, one-sided, elitist, and he has used his family name to advance in the cable news industry. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the context and reasoning behind his decision. Not all mistakes are inexcusable.
Take emotions out of it, ignore your personal opinion about Chris Cuomo, and ask yourself: what would you have done in his situation? If my brother or my sister had come calling in a moment of crisis, I would’ve done everything I could to help, which is what Chris did.
CNN has called Chris’ decision “irresponsible.” It most certainly is, from a journalistic ethics perspective. But it is also understandable. Desperation causes people to act recklessly, and almost nothing makes people feel desperate like the pain and struggle of a beloved family member. In such moments, we often disregard logic and the likely consequences of our actions to protect our loved ones.
In most cases, we condemn lying, possibly criminal behavior, and vengeful retaliation. But our reactions and judgment often change when a member of our family has done wrong.
Perhaps Chris Cuomo is in denial that his brother has sexually harassed over 10 women. Perhaps he’s giving him a generous benefit of the doubt. Though people are only half-serious when they refer to the Cuomo family as “the mob,” the mafia values loyalty to family well above moral, ethical or legal codes. There’s something to that value system. It is instinctive.
Even Tucker Carlson, a staunch critic of Chris Cuomo, expressed some sympathy for him on Monday:
“It’s his brother. Your loyalty should be to your family above all else. Not joking at all. Maybe even above your job. Maybe even above Jeff Zucker. If your brother calls and says, ‘I need help,’ if you don’t give him help because you’re pretending to be an anchor on some stupid cable channel that nobody watches, you’re betraying your brother.”
Critics from both political ideologies remind us that Chris has never mentioned several of his brother’s scandals on his show, Cuomo Prime Time, and yet Chris managed to interview Andrew several times during the pandemic last year to celebrate his leadership. However, this argument ignores an important point: CNN executives make decisions regarding show content and format, not the individual hosts. Thus, Chris Cuomo didn’t choose to present or submerge these stories, regardless of their affiliation with his brother. CNN is responsible for this blunder.
As I explained in a column last week, CNN lifted the ban that prohibited Chris from covering or interviewing his brother then reinstated the clause sometime in the fall. Chris Cuomo agreed to that deal in 2013, has not violated it, and acted contrary to it only when his bosses explicitly authorized him to do so.
CNN has allowed Chris to communicate with his brother on the phone, Chris then mistakenly took things a few steps further during the sexual harassment scandal and consulted with several of Andrew’s aides. Chris Cuomo put his network in a bad situation and is responsible for his actions, but that doesn’t allow us to eliminate reason, logic and context.
For the moment, Cuomo finds himself in an unprecedented situation: he’s a cable news host and his brother is embroiled in a current political scandal. There’s no precedent for this in the syllabus of journalistic standards. Chris Cuomo himself is now the standard.
Truth be told, Chris Cuomo hasn’t damaged anyone connected to the sexual harassment claims made against his brother. Nor has he silenced any of the accusers. He has simply put his family before his job. Chris Cuomo is not a sympathetic figure, but for the first time in his career — perhaps in his life — he is a relatable figure. Anyone who says they’d have done things differently is lying, but not to protect their family. They’d be lying to protect their ideological tribe.