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 during a six-hour interview in July 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.”
Then again, somewhat surprisingly, CNN allowed Cuomo to appear as normal Monday evening on his “Cuomo Prime Time” show. He did not mention Monday’s news.
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 the problem, 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.”
And, most damning, in a piece for The Atlantic, David A. Graham wrote, “He should resign; if he doesn’t, CNN should sack him.”
Graham argues that Chris could have either stepped away from his CNN job to advise his brother, or distanced himself from his brother during the controversy. But, Chris tried to have it both ways.
Graham writes, “By keeping Cuomo on the air and in his job, CNN would send the message that journalistic ethics are only for the little people and viewers are on their own. Cuomo should take some time off and reflect on his chosen profession — and if and when he comes back, perhaps he should choose a new beat.”
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Dorsey resigns at Twitter’s CEO
Big media news on Monday: Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO of Twitter — the social media giant he co-founded in 2006.
Why? In a resignation letter posted on — where else? — Twitter, Dorsey wrote, “There’s a lot of talk about the importance of a company being ‘founder-led.’ Ultimately, I believe that’s severely limiting and a single point of failure. I’ve worked hard to ensure this company can break away from its founding and failures.”
Dorsey also is the chief executive of the financial and digital payments company Square. The New York Times’ Kate Conger and Lauren Hirsch wrote, “His leadership has been questioned by employees and investors who believed that he was unfocused and spent too much of his time on Square and other passion projects. His departure comes a year and a half after Mr. Dorsey survived an attempted ouster from the activist investor Elliott Management. Chief among Elliott’s concerns was that Mr. Dorsey’s attention was divided between the two companies he led. The firm believed that Twitter had fallen behind social media rivals in increasing its stock price and adding innovative new products.”
The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin and Rachel Lerman wrote, “Dorsey has been distancing himself from direct leadership for years, according to people familiar with his leadership style who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Major decisions are generally made by other company leaders, though Dorsey does give a final sign off. He also rarely tweets about Twitter, focusing most of his public energy promoting blockchain and bitcoin-related projects.”
Big Technology newsletter writer and CNBC contributor Alex Kantrowitz tweeted, “Jack had been spending less than 10% of his time at Twitter, from what I’ve heard. So him leaving won’t be a massive operational change.” He later tweeted, “Again, don’t expect much change at Twitter because Jack was kinda absent.”
In his resignation letter to employees, Dorsey wrote, “I want you all to know that this was my decision and I own it. It was a tough one for me, of course. I love this service and company … and all of you so much. I’m really sad … yet really happy. There aren’t many companies that get to this level. And there aren’t many founders that choose their company over their own ego. I know we’ll prove this was the right move.”
Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s current chief technology officer, will replace Dorsey as the top executive. In a note to staff, Agrawal said he was “honored and humbled” that Dorsey chose to run the company. (Forbes’ Anna Kaplan has a helpful piece: “What To Know About Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s New CEO.”)
Conger and Hirsch wrote, “Mr. Dorsey’s exit will mark a significant shift at the company, which has navigated years of pressure from investors and increasing criticism from Washington, particularly Republican lawmakers who complain Twitter has contributed to a stifling of conservative voices in social media.”
So is this all a big deal, especially if Dorsey hasn’t had a very active role recently as many claim? Actually, yeah, it is a big deal, particularly for journalism. As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton writes, “There is no social platform more important to the state of contemporary journalism than Twitter.”
Benton adds, “Twitter’s structural affordances — a real-time stream, constraints on length, baked-in virality, treating links and replies as first-class platform citizens — are particularly well attuned to the way journalists think and act. As a result, it’s where journalists — and news junkies in need of a fix — disproportionately choose to spend their time.”
Word of the year
Merriam-Webster has selected its word of the year: vaccine.
You could look at that one of two ways. It’s depressing that the word of the year is because of a pandemic that has caused more than 5 million deaths worldwide and continues to impact our lives. On the other hand, the vaccine against COVID-19 has been an amazing medical achievement and is helping to save lives.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told The Associated Press’ Leanne Italie, “This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021. It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there’s also the debates regarding policy, politics and political affiliation. It’s one word that carries these two huge stories.”
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is similar to Oxford’s 2021 word of the year, which was “vax.” Merriam-Webster’s 2020 word of the year was “pandemic.”
Merriam-Webster said lookups for “vaccine” increased 601% year-over-year from 2020. Other top lookups in 2021 included words such as “insurrection,” “woke,” “infrastructure” and “meta,” which jumped in lookups following Facebook’s announcement in October that it was changing its company name to “Meta.”
The latest on omicron
President Joe Biden spoke Monday about the omicron variant of COVID-19. Biden said it is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” He added, “Sooner or later we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat just as we face those who have come before it.”
Scientists, doctors and other experts are still learning about omicron, and it’s still too early to tell what kind of impact it will have. Biden, however, said — “for now” — there are no immediate plans for any lockdowns. He told reporters, “If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for lockdown.”
He also urged Americans to get vaccinated and boosted, saying, “We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed — not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before, from vaccines to boosters to vaccines for children, 5 years and older and much more.”
Appearing on CNN’s “The Lead” Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Jake Tapper, “So, we have every reason to believe, even though this is an extraordinary, unusual variant because of the number of mutations, there’s no reason to believe that it will not happen that, if you get the level of antibody high with the regular booster to the regular vaccine, that you’re going to have at least some effect, and hopefully a good effect, on our ability to protect against this variant.”
But what about those vaccines? Many are pointing to issues in Africa as an example of vaccine inequities across the world. The headline on an opinion piece in The Washington Post from Philip R. Krause, Marion F. Gruber and Paul A. Offit read, “We don’t need universal booster shots. We need to reach the unvaccinated.”
Here are a few other pieces to catch you up on the latest involving omicron:
- CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Kate Sullivan with “Biden says new Omicron variant is ‘cause for concern, not a cause for panic’”
- The New York Times’ Apoorva Mandavilli with “Will the Vaccines Stop Omicron? Scientists Are Racing to Find Out.”
- In The Washington Post, Meryl Kornfield, Adela Suliman, Christine Armario, María Luisa Paúl and Lindsey Bever with ”What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.”
Correction of the day
Gotta love this correction in The Washington Post’s story about the death of Stephen Sondheim. The correction read:
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the barber Sweeney Todd slits the throats of his clients and then sells their bodies for meat. He slits their throats, and then his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, bakes them into pies and sells those. This version has been corrected.
My Poynter colleague, Doris Truong, read that and said, “No need to see ‘Sweeney Todd’ now, I guess.”
Alden seeks seats on Lee’s board
For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.
Alden Global Capital has played another card in its campaign to take over Lee Enterprises. On Friday, the hedge fund nominated a slate of three directors for seats on Lee’s eight-person board. In a press release Monday, Lee described these as “purported” nominations and said it would see whether proper procedures were followed. If so, they would be considered at the company’s 2022 annual meeting.
Alden offered a bid of $24 a share a week ago, $4 per share more than the company’s trading value at market close Nov. 19. Lee rebuffed the offer, saying its directors will consider it over the next year, while putting in a “poison pill” aimed at blocking Alden from buying more than 10% of the company’s shares.
Alden gained seats on the board of Tribune Publishing over a period of 18 months as part of its strategy for acquiring control of that company, which it completed this summer. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Alden said it will press for more expeditious consideration of the offer if it gains seats on Lee’s board.
‘A future under Alden has only despair,’ say Lee unions
There’s more regarding Lee and Alden. My Poynter colleague Angela Fu filed this item:
Unions representing 12 Lee Enterprises newsrooms sent a joint letter to the company’s board of directors Monday, urging them to reject any offers made by Alden Global Capital to take over the chain.
“They will take this proud company, built over decades of hard work, and leave it in ashes. Thousands of us will lose our jobs, and the communities we serve will never recover,” the letter reads. “Cities with weakened or shuttered newspapers have lower turnout, higher taxes, more corruption and increased polarization. Our democracy suffers, and Alden reaps the rewards.”
The unions represent some of the largest newspapers within Lee, including the Omaha World-Herald, The Buffalo News and the Richmond-Times Dispatch. They argue in their letter that Alden has a history of cutting staff at its newspapers and closing physical newsrooms.
Earlier this year, after Alden acquired Tribune Publishing, 13 unions at Tribune papers released a joint statement denouncing the move. They had worked unsuccessfully to find buyers for each of the papers. In just six weeks, Alden eliminated more than 10% of newsroom staff across Tribune.
- Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent with “How will the media cover Trump in 2024? Insiders are sounding the alarm.” Sargent asks, “How do you cover a candidate who is explicitly anti-democracy while simultaneously maintaining both the media’s conventions of nominal objectivity and its small-L liberal commitments?”
- The New York Times’ Marc Tracy with “Local News Outlets Could Reap $1.7 Billion in Build Back Better Aid.”
- Kara Swisher’s latest “Sway” podcast for The New York Times: “Emily Ratajkowski Isn’t Quite Ready to Quit Profiting Off the Male Gaze.”
- Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple with “Bret Baier’s missing courage.”
- Awful Announcing’s Ben Koo with “Adam Schefter’s credibility problem is beginning to snowball ahead of his own free agency.”
- Missed this story over the weekend, but it’s a stunningly good read. For The Washington Post, Frederic J. Frommer with a look back at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in “The Olympic boycott movement that failed.”
- Also a few days old, but good stuff on The Ringer from Lex Pryor: “The Deep and Twisted Roots of the American Yam.”
- Out’s Raffy Ermac with “11 LGBTQ+ Holiday Movies & Shows Making the Yuletide Gay in 2021.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Correction: Alden offered a bid that was $5.50 per share more than the company’s trading value at market close Nov. 19.