On Monday night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo opened his nightly show by addressing the elephant in the room: his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo is fighting for his political life after three different women accused him of sexual and/or workplace harassment; the latest accusation landed on Monday evening when a woman named Anna Ruch recounted a deeply unsettling encounter with Cuomo at a wedding in 2019. Cuomo has denied one of the accounts, from former aide Lindsay Boylan. He also issued a broad apology for what he described as behavior that might have been “misinterpreted” as flirtation. This is all on top of the still-brewing scandal over the governor’s cover-up of nursing home deaths and the culture of abusive bullying he has led in Albany. New York’s attorney general Letitia James has launched an investigation into Cuomo, and calls for his resignation are growing louder and louder.
Chris Cuomo wanted his viewers to know that he was quite cognizant of all this, but that he couldn’t talk about it for obvious reasons. He is a journalist, you see, and covering his brother’s misfortunes is a clear conflict of interest.
All well and good, but you might be a little puzzled right now. “Surely I’ve seen Chris Cuomo talking about Andrew Cuomo before?” you might be wondering.
You’d be right, because Chris Cuomo and his CNN bosses have not always viewed the topic of Andrew Cuomo as off-limits. Far from it: as the COVID-19 pandemic raged in New York, Chris Cuomo frequently turned his nightly news show into a buddy comedy co-starring his brother, and CNN happily assented, lifting its longstanding ban on having the two men on together. (That ban has now been reinstated.)
Never mind that tens of thousands of people were dying on Andrew’s watch; that people in nursing homes and prisons were being left to perish; that a steady chorus of critics was pointing out the grave flaws in the governor’s handling of the pandemic. All of these issues are highly political and controversial, and would seem to be exactly the sort of thing that would render Andrew Cuomo out of bounds for his journalist brother. But no, Chris eagerly allowed Andrew to launder his reputation—to bolster what Alex Pareene has aptly described as the “TV character” version of himself—and CNN went along for the ride.
Here are just a few of the segments CNN aired starring the Cuomo duo. According to USA Today, Andrew Cuomo appeared nine separate times on Cuomo Prime Time between March and June of 2020. I’m sure you can tell by the titles CNN chose for them that they were all highly critical and penetrating, and not a highly powerful politician being given the biggest pass imaginable on national television:
I could go on. It’s a near certainty that the governor’s primetime family squabbles helped him get that International Emmy Award.
Now that things are not going so well for Andrew Cuomo, though, it appears that basic journalistic ethics are back in town. Suddenly, he is verboten for Chris to discuss. But principles like that are not worth much if they can be discarded when you and your bosses feel like it. Andrew Cuomo is the exact same person in the exact same position he was in last year. The issues swirling around him have been issues for a very long time. But for months, CNN felt like it had a ratings and entertainment hit on its hands, and decided that it was more worth it to keep the fun going than to cover Andrew Cuomo critically. That decision was always terrible, but it appears even more disastrous now.