Prime-time CNN presenter Chris Cuomo gave public relations advice to his brother, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, after a series of sexual harassment allegations threatened the governor’s political career earlier this year, an unusual break from traditional Barriers between legislators and journalists.
CNN said Thursday that the talks were “inappropriate” and that Chris Cuomo would not have similar talks with the governor’s staff. However, the network said it would not take disciplinary action against the anchor, whose program was CNN’s top-rated show in the first quarter of the year.
The episode has again raised questions about Chris Cuomo’s ability to host a flagship cable news show while his brother is a key figure in several major political stories. In addition to allegations of harassment from several women who worked on his staff, Governor Cuomo has been criticized for covering up the number of coronavirus deaths in New York state nursing homes. Last year, before the scandals broke news, Governor Cuomo commanded a national audience with his daily news of the pandemic.
Governor Cuomo’s office said Thursday that Chris Cuomo had joined several strategy calls with the governor and some of his top advisors to confirm an earlier Washington Post report. “There were some phone calls with friends and advisers who gave advice to the governor,” said Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo.
Chris Cuomo apologized to viewers and colleagues at the start of the show on Thursday for the calls to the governor’s staff, saying, “It won’t happen again. It was a mistake. “But he also defended himself, saying that he” naturally “gave advice to his brother and that he was” family first, job second “.
“I know where the line is,” he said of the balance between journalist and politician as a brother. “I can respect it and still be there for my family, what I have to.”
Earlier this year, CNN blocked Chris Cuomo from reporting on allegations of harassment against his brother, who has denied any wrongdoing.
“Chris was not involved in CNN’s full coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo – either in the air or behind the scenes,” CNN said in a statement. “Partly because, as he said on his show, he could never be objective. But also because it often serves as a sounding board for his brother. However, it was inappropriateness to have conversations that included governor staff, which Chris acknowledges. “
“Cuomo Prime Time”, which airs on the east coast at 9 p.m., is a news and commentary hour with the colorful monologues of its namesake and tournament interviews with guests. In cable news, the code of ethics is often looser for commentators than for reporters. However, offering strategic advice to a high profile politician is frowned upon. MSNBC, for example, stopped paying presidential historian Jon Meacham last year after he helped write speeches for Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was then a presidential candidate.
Several Fox News opinion leaders have actively advised President Trump during his tenure. Sean Hannity even performed with Mr. Trump at a boisterous campaign event. But the CNN leadership often criticized Fox News for those blurry lines. Jeff Zucker, the CNN president, described Rupert Murdoch’s Fox as “state television”.
After joining CNN in 2013, Chris Cuomo largely refrained from interviewing his brother on television. (An early exception resulted in some setbacks.) That changed last year after Governor Cuomo’s coronavirus updates became a national phenomenon. The brothers conducted extensive prime-time interviews about the emotional pressures of the pandemic. Viewers were thrilled, especially after Chris Cuomo tested positive for the coronavirus and started speaking to his brother from isolation in a basement.
CNN leaned into the moment. “You get trust through authenticity, relativity and vulnerability,” Zucker told the New York Times last year. “This is what the Cuomo brothers are giving us right now.”
The duo’s on-air appeal eased after Governor Cuomo faced criticism of New York State’s response to the coronavirus. That year, it was also reported that Chris Cuomo was among the governor’s friends and family who were given special access to government-run coronavirus testing facilities, including a police escort for samples so they could be processed quickly.
At the time, a CNN spokesperson defended the host, arguing that Mr. Cuomo had the virus and “went to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human would do”.
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed to the coverage.