How in the world does Chris Cuomo survive this?
We already knew that CNN’s prime-time anchor was involved in helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, combat sexual harassment allegations that eventually forced him out of office. But now, it turns out, Chris Cuomo was even more involved than we originally thought.
And if true, Cuomo cannot possibly keep his job, can he?
According to documents released Monday by the New York attorney general’s office, Chris used his media sources to seek out information about women who accused his brother of sexual misconduct. He then relayed some of that information to his brother’s top advisers.
The documents show that Chris was actively in touch with Melissa DeRosa, who was the then-governor’s top aide, and that the two discussed the allegations.
That’s just the beginning. Chris pushed to play a key role in helping his brother. At one point, Chris texted DeRosa, “Please let me help with the prep.” He pleaded with DeRosa to “trust me” and to “stop hiding” details from him. He added, “We are making mistakes we can’t afford.”
After The New York Times ran a story in March about Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to kiss a woman at a wedding, Chris texted DeRosa, “I have a lead on the wedding girl.”
Chris told investigators, “I would — when asked, I would reach out to sources, other journalists, to see if they had heard of anybody else coming out.”
Chris also was involved in strategizing about his brother’s future. On March 12, Chris sent a text to DeRosa with a statement for his brother to read that said, “I will not resign, I cannot resign, I understand the political pressure, I understand the stakes of political warfare, and that’s what this is. … And I understand the conformity that can be forced by cancel culture.”
On several occasions, DeRosa asked Chris to find out information about a story that Ronan Farrow was believed to be working on for The New Yorker about Lindsey Boylan, Andrew’s first accuser.
After being asked by DeRosa to check his “sources,” Chris texted back, “if ronan has nothing better than Boylan thats a great sign.”
DeRosa then asked Chris to join a conference call to “discuss rownan convo.”
Another time, DeRosa asked Chris again, “Did u get any more intel?” Chris responded with, “Story not ready for tomorrow.”
Farrow’s story was published three days later.
Chris also emailed information to another Andrew Cuomo adviser about another accuser.
But Chris told investigators that he would “never do oppo research on anybody” making allegations against his brother. Chris told investigators he was not a “substantive player” in the strategy discussions and did not share information with other reporters on his brother’s behalf. Chris told investigators, “I didn’t have a role on the team. I’m not on his team. I’m his brother and I’m a Cuomo.”
He also told investigators, “If I had tried to influence any of the reporting at CNN or anywhere else, I guarantee you you people would know, and so would a lot of others. So the idea of one reporter calling another to find out about what’s coming down the pipe is completely business-as-usual.”
Chris also told investigators, “I was worried that this wasn’t being handled the right way, and it’s not my job to handle it, OK? I don’t work for the governor. I’m not defending him in this matter. I’m not covering it. You know, this is — this is not what I do.”
But CNN appears to be taking this more seriously than they did earlier this year when questions about a conflict of interest originally surfaced. In a statement Monday, the network said, “The thousands of pages of additional transcripts and exhibits that were released today by the NY Attorney General deserve a thorough review and consideration. We will be having conversations and seeking additional clarity about their significance as they relate to CNN over the next several days.”
Chris being involved in strategy sessions to help his brother is not a new revelation. That first came to light in a Washington Post story in May. After the story came out — and both CNN and Chris came under criticism — Chris acknowledged that he made a “mistake,” but also was defiant, telling viewers that his family came before his job. He said on the air, “Point blank, I can’t be objective when it comes to my family. So I never reported on the scandal. And when it happened, I tried to be there for my brother.”
He also apologized to his CNN colleagues for putting them in a “bad spot.”
Chris downplayed his role and CNN didn’t punish him. The story seemed to die down, especially after Andrew announced on Aug. 10 that he was stepping down as governor. In all, 11 women accused Andrew of harassment.
Then came Monday’s news.
So let’s get to the heart of all this. What happens to Chris?
Many might ask that if Chris isn’t actually covering the story for CNN and had no influence over how CNN covered the story, where’s the conflict? What did he do that was so wrong?
Here’s what the problem is, which I also wrote last May:
It’s one thing to recuse yourself from coverage. It’s another to try to go behind the scenes and try to shape what happens. Chris Cuomo is advising Andrew Cuomo on strategy, which you would assume includes how to deal with the media and change the media narrative. In other words, while Chris Cuomo’s colleagues and other media outlets are doggedly working on this story, Chris is advising his brother and his brother’s staff on how to deal with the media and their reporting.
And the objective for Chris is to make the allegations against his brother go away or fall short of any meaningful and deserved consequences.
Meanwhile, as I also pointed out previously, how would you feel if you were a woman at CNN and a powerful employee at that company was trying to help someone, even if it was his brother, defuse and overcome allegations of disturbing sexual misconduct?
And, as we learned Monday, Chris didn’t merely lend an ear and offer a few words of encouragement to his brother. He was actively involved in making sure his brother stayed in power despite awful allegations.
So now what? There’s no telling what CNN might do, but already there are questions in media circles about whether Chris will keep his job.
Rolling Stone editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman tweeted, “If this story is accurate, it describes a series of shocking ethical breaches — fireable offenses at any other news outlet.”
Daily Beast media reporter Justin Baragona tweeted, “One would think that a network would look to rid itself of someone who was leaning on media sources to dig up dirt on women accusing his brother of sexual misconduct. One would think.”
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple tweeted, “And this is why @CNN should have conducted an internal investigation of all @chriscuomo actions vis-a-vis his brother’s scandals. That should have happened months ago.”
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.