By:
March 3, 2021

CNN has a Cuomo problem. It’s a problem CNN created, and a problem CNN now is taking plenty of heat over — for good reason.

Chris Cuomo is one of CNN’s stars, the host of his own prime-time show. His brother is Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York.

Because of the obvious conflict of interest, CNN made sure that Chris never interviewed Andrew on his show. Seemed like a no-brainer decision and it was never really an issue, mostly because there was never a story so big involving Andrew that Chris’ national show absolutely had to address his brother in any way.

Then came COVID-19.

With New York City at the epicenter of the coronavirus last year, Gov. Cuomo’s daily press conferences became must-see TV. Americans tuned in to gain a greater understanding of what was happening. CNN would carry the daily briefings live. Gov. Cuomo became a star. He was known for his transparency and straight talk about the virus, which was often in stark contrast to the briefings delivered by then President Donald Trump.

Then CNN crossed the line.

The network allowed Gov. Cuomo to appear on Chris’ show. The segments with Chris and Andrew became wildly popular. They acted like brothers. They teased each other, jabbed each other, yukked it up. They talked about mom and growing up. In between their little comedy act, they did discuss the coronavirus.

Audiences couldn’t get enough. Most embraced the respite from the constant grim news about COVID-19 and enjoyed the segments enough that far too many (including some media observers such as myself) overlooked the shady journalism ethics that were on display. But with Gov. Cuomo in good standing, it all seemed fairly harmless.

But now Gov. Cuomo is caught up in a blender of scandals. His administration is under federal investigation for its handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. And three women, including two former aides, have come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct. There are calls for his resignation.

When Chris Cuomo opened his show Monday night, he obviously had to address the elephant in the room — that his brother was facing serious allegations. He also said he could not talk about it, while assuring his audience that CNN would continue to report on the story.

Let’s be clear: Not covering this latest story is absolutely the correct thing for Chris Cuomo to do. It is a conflict of interest and he should not be reporting on it.

But it’s still a bad look for CNN. It allowed Chris Cuomo to interview Gov. Cuomo when Gov. Cuomo looked good. But now that Gov. Cuomo is under fire, Chris Cuomo is saying nothing. It just reinforces that allowing Chris to interview Andrew early in the COVID-19 story was a rotten call.

Margaret Sullivan, the smart media columnist for The Washington Post, brings up a good point. Not everyone gave the Cuomos a pass when Andrew appeared on Chris’ show. When many were griping about The Cuomo Brothers Comedy Hour, Sullivan (and others) argued that Chris’ show wasn’t straight news. It was more of an opinion or entertainment show, kind of like Sean Hannity’s hour on Fox News, and therefore maybe shouldn’t be held to the same journalistic standards.

But because we know now what we didn’t know then, it has become problematic. We’re also looking back at Andrew’s appearances on Chris’ show in a different light.

“It’s all just a little too convenient and slippery,” Sullivan writes. “One of Chris Cuomo’s defenses when he was criticized last spring was that his treatment of his brother wasn’t all fluff: He really did ask him newsy questions — like whether he might run for president.”

The problem isn’t now. It was then.

Chris shouldn’t be covering his brother now. That is the right call. The mistake made was several months ago. As Sullivan writes, “CNN established a reasonable Cuomo-to-Cuomo policy back in 2013. It’s clear now, if it wasn’t fully clear before, that network brass should have resisted temptation and stuck with it.”

CNN didn’t stick with it. As a result, its credibility is taking a hit.

ABC News news

ABC News’ David Muir. (Courtesy: ABC News)

Some intriguing doings over at ABC News: David Muir will lead breaking news stories for the network. Makes sense. Muir is the anchor of ABC’s “World News Night,” the most-watched network evening news broadcast. In fact, many times in the past year, the Muir-led “World News Tonight” has been the most-watched show on all of TV. The decision to name Muir as Diane Sawyer’s successor in 2014 has most certainly paid off, and he deserves this additional assignment.

So what does Muir’s new role mean? In addition to his “World News Tonight” duties, he will handle most of ABC News’ special reports and important national stories that require special coverage.

But what about George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of “Good Morning America” and moderator “This Week,” who has traditionally been the lead anchor for breaking news and special coverage at ABC?

For starters, Stephanopoulos likely will still lead news coverage that breaks in the morning hours. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, Stephanopoulos also will host more prime-time specials and could create shows for Disney-owned platforms such as Hulu and National Geographic. In fact, Stelter reported this new arrangement was a result of a bit of a power struggle involving Muir and Stephanopoulos.

Stelter said Disney executive chairman Bob Iger brokered the peace, including signing Stephanopoulos to a contract extension. Muir also is believed to be signed to a multi-year deal. A source told Stelter, “They found a way to have two big stars and build towards the future.”

Besides everyone, who saw this coming?

Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In a move that is surprising to absolutely no one, former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has been hired by Fox News as a contributor. The announcement was made Tuesday on Harris Faulkner’s show while McEnany was giving her first interview since leaving the White House. Faulkner started by saying, “It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Kayleigh McEnany to the Fox family. We will be seeing much more of her.”

McEnany joined the Trump administration in April 2020. She got off to a poor start and, somehow, progressively got worse. In her first press conference as White House press secretary, McEnany pledged she would never lie to the media, yet didn’t keep that promise.

As I wrote frequently during her tenure as White House press secretary, McEnany seemed completely overmatched in her job. Far too often, she was more interested in playing politics and telling the media how to do its job instead of being transparent and effectively explaining then-President Trump’s policies, words and actions. After Trump lost the election, McEnany continued to push false and baseless claims of a rigged election.

All this is to say that when it comes to credibility, McEnany is in short supply, yet Fox News wasted little time bringing her aboard.

This isn’t McEnany’s first go at TV. She was the press secretary for Trump’s presidential campaign and was the national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. She then became a regular CNN contributor for a while after Trump was elected.

During her interview with Faulkner, she already was complaining about how current White House press secretary Jen Psaki is being treated by the media.

McEnany said, “I’ll never forget watching one of the early press briefings where she was asked about antifa riots and I believe she said that she hadn’t spoken to the president about that. They let her move on, whereas if I would have been asked that about violence on the other side of the aisle … that wouldn’t have been an answer that flew, nor should it have.”

Psaki’s reaction

During her press conference Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about McEnany and whether or not she would appear on Fox News with McEnany.

Psaki pointed out that she already has done “Fox News Sunday” twice as White House press secretary and that she would be “happy to go on a range of shows.”

Psaki added that she knew McEnany a little from when they were both CNN contributors.

“Like many Americans, we disagree on political issues,” Psaki said, “but we talked about our families, our spouses, sports, all sorts of things in the green room. And I certainly wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Dropping the ball

North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn is the youngest member of Congress. He’s just 25. Last Sunday, The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish wrote a disturbing story in which several women accused Cawthorn of sexual harassment and misconduct from when he was a college student. In addition, Kranish’s story also details some of the falsehoods that could have helped propel Cawthorn’s political career.

Cawthorn has denied any wrongdoing. The allegations are not necessarily new, but the Post story had plenty of specifics and certainly put the story, and Cawthorn, in the national spotlight.

Yet when Cawthorn appeared on Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends First,” he was never asked about the Post story. Instead, “Fox & Friends First” asked about the “canceling of Dr. Seuss.”

The accusations against Cawthorn should have been addressed by Fox News.

Poynter’s new project

(Kristen Hare/Poynter)

Poynter has a new project out, so for this item, I turn it over to my colleague Kristen Hare, who is heading up the effort. Here’s Kristen:

We spent a lot of last year tracking cuts and closures to journalism caused by the pandemic, but that’s not the full story. I knew, anecdotally, that local newsrooms were seeing a surge in traffic and support from their communities. But two journalism professors went beyond anecdotes and collected oral histories from nearly 30 newsrooms in seven states in mid-America. At Poynter, we offered a home for that work, which shares a valuable look at a critical industry during unprecedented times.

Here are a few things you can learn from that project, The Essential Workers, which includes audio, transcripts and some of the work from those newsrooms last year:

Two publishers took on papers that were about to close — one in Kansas, another in Nebraska. “It’s sort of like seein’ a puppy beside the road, you know, are you just gonna leave it there to die or are you gonna take it home, even if you have another dog?” said Cynthia Haynes of Haynes Publishing in Kansas.

Native and Black publications served communities that no one else was covering. On the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, The West River Eagle documented public health checkpoints for a story that took the site’s traffic from 5,000 visitors a month to 250,000.

As advertising tanked industrywide, digital traffic hit new records, helping newsrooms that hadn’t done much online see the value of the medium. Online readership doubled at The Community Voice, a Black newspaper based in Wichita, Kansas.

And many publishers fought to replace the money they lost from advertising: In North Dakota, one publisher walked a 10-mile route delivering newspapers and offering subscriptions to a nearby lake community.

This marks the official launch of a project we’ll be working on for the rest of the year — Recovering the News — which will dive into the numbers, stories and solutions to bring local news back to health after the pandemic and the pretty rough decade that preceded it.

MSNBC’s strong month

Each Tuesday, the cable news ratings come out and CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all twist and turn the numbers to make themselves look good. The networks brag about morning ratings, or prime time, or how they won this demographic or that.

Having said that, MSNBC did have a good February. They averaged 1.4 million total viewers during the total day. That was ahead of Fox News’ 1.3 million and CNN’s 1.2 million.

Meanwhile, shows such as “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “Morning Joe” and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” all won their time slots vs. their counterparts on CNN and Fox News. It prompted MSNBC president Rashida Jones to send the following note to employees:

I’m so proud of our coverage the past few weeks.

From unpacking the Biden administration’s first month to Trump’s second impeachment trial, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and Black history – our coverage of live, breaking news and insightful analysis and perspective are unmatched.

Your excellent journalism and dedication to reporting these important stories have led MSNBC to the top. For the first time in our network history, MSNBC was #1 not just in cable news but across all of cable television in February. Many of our programs are #1 in their time slots, we’re leading CNN and FOX News by more viewers, and MSNBC Digital continues to break records.

Thanks to everyone for working so hard to make our coverage a success. Keep up the good work.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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