In a move more typically associated with shady politicians than a news network supposedly committed to transparency, CNN had a whopper of a news dump on Saturday night, announcing it was firing primetime news anchor Chris Cuomo.
This followed a weeklong suspension after government documents proved his involvement in covering up the sexual misconduct of his brother, disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was much more extensive than previously known. The emails and text exchanges released by the New York attorney general’s office showed Chris Cuomo not only assisted with the public relations strategy to help his brother evade accountability, but used his relationships in the media at outlets like MSNBC and Politico – that he had gained from his job at CNN – to help him do it.
Even more shocking, it was revealed that Chris Cuomo asked for their help in digging up dirt on one survivor of his brother’s sexual abuse. Also, since Chris Cuomo’s firing, at least one woman has come forward accusing Chris Cuomo himself of sexual harassment.
This series of scandals violates every journalistic principle of objectivity and ethics, sure, but the real scandal is much larger. Why did it take the release of this most recent round of documents for corporate media to finally call out Chris Cuomo’s despicable behavior, when we already knew more than enough?
Worse, why did it take nearly six months for Chris Cuomo’s employer, CNN President Jeff Zucker, to suspend his network’s star anchor? As I wrote in August, journalists should have been leading the campaign to hold Chris Cuomo accountable and CNN should have fired him immediately after his initial involvement in the coverup of sexual abuse came to light.
Unfortunately, we know exactly why “media critics” like CNN’s Brian Stelter failed (or rather refused) to seriously investigate their colleague or comment on his misdeeds, even when they already knew of serious misconduct, and instead even chose to defend Chris Cuomo. These people, and most in their profession, could be more accurately described as lazy, partisan, and unserious rather than journalists. They are much more interested in vapid, click-bait hit jobs on Trump and Republicans than they are in holding their industry, and Democrats – which are increasingly synonymous – accountable.
But while we can’t expect overnight transformation from a broken profession with a financial incentive to avoid self-criticism, we can expect CNN’s employees, executives, and shareholders with a financial interest in their company’s success to question why, under the leadership of Zucker, CNN has allowed a culture of tolerating sexual misconduct to fester. Chris Cuomo was allowed to remain on payroll and on-air for the last six months, but he’s not the only one.
Last year, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s chief legal analyst, was suspended by The New Yorker for masturbating while on a Zoom call with colleagues. When Zucker found out about this grotesque display, CNN did not even suspend Toobin, but instead allowed him to take a requested leave of absence. Zucker then welcomed Toobin back to CNN just a few months later.
Even more problematic, another CNN prime time news anchor, Don Lemon, currently stands accused of sexually assaulting a younger man at a Hamptons bar a few years ago. The man alleges Lemon “put his hand down the front of his own shorts, and vigorously rubbed his genitalia, removed his hand” and then shoved his fingers in the alleged victim’s face and aggressively asked if he “like[d] p***y or d**ck.” In the aftermath of the Cuomo fallout, Lemon’s alleged victim described CNN as “a predator protecting machine…rife with predators and perverts.”
Since its inception, CNN embraced the most extreme fringe of the radical Me Too mob movement, elevating clowns like future felon Michael Avenatti, yet the same network has a serial sexual misconduct problem of its own. While Zucker is already expected to retire soon, CNN should not allow him to go out on his own terms. The hit to the network’s already damaged reputation and the potential legal vulnerabilities for CNN should be more than enough reason to fire Zucker immediately.
It seems the list of top CNN talent implicated in sexual misconduct or defending it is growing by the day. Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, Jeffrey Toobin, and Brian Stelter weren’t the first and surely won’t be the last. Zucker must answer for why he has forced his employees, male and female, to work at a network with top brass that apparently tolerates and defends sexual misconduct. That is a significant moral, ethical, legal, and financial liability — and Zucker must be held accountable. CNN must fire Jeff Zucker.