NEW YORK — CNN host Chris Cuomo told viewers Monday that he “obviously” couldn’t cover the stories surrounding his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused of sexual harassment by three women.
The prime time host addressed the topic immediately at the start of his show, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern, and just as quickly moved on.
Stories about the embattled governor’s problems have been awkward for CNN, which allowed the two brothers to banter on the air several times last spring at the COVID-19 pandemic’s start. The appearances charmed some viewers while making ethical experts queasy.
“Obviously, I’m aware of what’s going on with my brother,” Chris Cuomo said on Monday. “Obviously, I cannot cover it because he is my brother. Now, of course CNN has to cover it. They have covered it extensively and they will continue to do so.”
He said he cares “profoundly” about the issues brought up by the women who have accused his brother.
Both Andrew Cuomo, 63, and Chris, 50, are sons of the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat who served three terms in the 1980s and 1990s. His son is in his third term as New York’s leader.
“It’s the least they can do,” said Steven Thrasher, a journalism professor at Northwestern University. With the story hot, Thrasher said it would have been wise for Chris Cuomo to step back for a few days and let someone else do his show.
Since he joined the network in 2013, CNN had prevented Chris Cuomo from doing stories about his brother for basic journalism reasons: a viewer could not expect someone to report objectively about a relative.
But, starting last March, CNN suspended its rule. Chris Cuomo had caught COVID-19 and was doing shows from his basement, quarantined from his family. New York had the most cases in the nation and the governor’s briefings were a daytime TV hit. CNN figured putting the familial bonds and rivalries on the air would make for colorful TV.
After a final appearance in late June, CNN reinstated the ban.
“The situation CNN finds itself in illustrates why journalists should not deviate or make exceptions, even well-intentioned ones, from fairly well-established principles of journalistic ethics,” said Scott Stroud, ethics director for the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.
Two women who worked in state government for Cuomo — Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett — have separately accused Cuomo of making unwanted advances. Cuomo said he’s sorry if anyone “misinterpreted” his behavior “as an unwanted flirtation.” New York’s attorney general was empowered Monday to choose an independent investigator to look into the cases.
Then, on Monday night, The New York Times reported that a third woman said she had been made uncomfortable by Cuomo’s behavior at a wedding reception.
The harassment charges were piled on top of years of stories that Cuomo had bullied people, and questions about whether a state policy toward nursing homes last spring put people in danger of catching the virus.
One of the leading critics of the governor’s nursing home policies, Fox News Channel meteorologist Janice Dean, saw the deaths of her father-in-law and mother-in-law in New York facilities last spring. She was unimpressed by Chris Cuomo’s statement Monday.
“I will never forget these guys joking around while we screamed in horror at the thousands that were dying around us,” Dean tweeted. “An apology would have been a good start.”
As Chris Cuomo said, CNN has covered the story elsewhere on the network. A lengthy segment on Jake Tapper’s show Monday featured an interview with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a frequent Cuomo critic.
Jacqueline Jones, a professor at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication, said Chris Cuomo should have been well aware last spring of the conflict of interest issues she routinely teaches her students.
“Too much of broadcast and cable news programming has blurred the lines between straight news, punditry and entertainment,” Jones said. “It confuses viewers and strains credulity for the networks and their show hosts about the straightforwardness of their reporting.”
Story by David Bauder.