On Tuesday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in the face of multiple sexual harassment allegations, amid the resignations of many high-profile individuals associated with his office. Naturally, this was a topic of conversation for late-night television hosts, including Stephen Colbert, who had CNN media reporter Brian Stelter as a guest. What beautiful timing for Colbert, but less so for Stelter, who was likely present to promote the paperback edition of his book, Hoax, but instead had to contend with the sticky wicket of his employer’s involvement in Cuomo’s scandal.
According to Stelter, he was asleep during Cuomo’s speech announcing his resignation, which sounds inexcusable, but is more understandable when you realize that Cuomo did not lead with the news of his resignation, but chose instead to cram it in the middle of a long-winded monologue, and followed that up by clinging to the narrative that New York persevered over covid under his leadership. Regardless, Stelter’s wife woke him up in time to catch most of what Cuomo was saying. As a journalist, Stelter has made a career of taking the media to task, but in this particular incident, CNN is inadvertently involved.
Chris Cuomo, brother of Andrew, is the host of Cuomo Prime Time, a show on CNN, the network that for the duration of the pandemic served as a mouthpiece for Andrew to gloat about his accomplishments handling the covid crisis. According to a New York Times report, which Stelter confirmed on air, Chris had been advising his brother on what to do about the sexual harassment allegations, and reportedly urged him to resign. The younger Cuomo was forced to apologize to his viewers in May after news broke that he’d been counseling his brother in the face of the allegations. Colbert asked Stelter if the very obvious conflict of interests was creating a problem behind the scenes at CNN. Stelter’s response? Eh, sorta.
“Some people are mad at him,” Stelter said in response to Colbert’s insistent questioning about the murky ethics of the entire situation. “You’ve got to have boundaries. You’ve got to draw the line.” Arguably, the boundaries and the aforementioned line were drawn in the sand rather than in firmament. According to Stelter, the “boundaries” in question were drawn by CNN’s management, which made it clear that Chris would not talk about his brother’s sex pest bullshit on national television—a curious conflict of interest that seems very convenient.
In the dark, early months of 2020, Andrew and his brother Chris’s fraternal bantering on the show went hand in hand with Andrew’s façade of competence, displayed during his daily covid briefings. Though Andrew’s briefings were a dim light in the dark in the early part of the pandemic, anything other than the endless, grim reports of the dead on the nightly news felt hopeful. Chris provided a platform for his brother to tout his achievements—but once news of Andrew’s inappropriate behavior with women broke, CNN’s management made an interesting distinction.
“The boundary that CNN management presented to [Chris] in May, when they admitted he screwed up, they said, ‘You admitted you were on the phone with your brother’s aides, advising them on what to do, and that was inappropriate.’” Stelter said. “But they said, ‘Of course you’re going to talk to your brother…’” According to the Times, Chris has been barred from strategy sessions with his brother’s aides, but he was not forbidden to speak to his brother in a familial sense. Additionally, CNN offered Chris a particularly enticing golden parachute—to take a leave of absence so that he could help shepherd his brother through this crisis, with the promise that he could return to his show when this whole mess was over. Curiously, Chris did not take this offer, opting to continue to do his job on television, likely in concert with the demands of his ego. Certainly that behavior runs in the family, if Andrew’s late resignation means anything at all.
Family is complicated, and even more so when one brother is a television personality tasked with presenting news in an objective fashion, and the other, the governor of a big state with Presidential aspirations. Morally and ethically, you don’t shit where you eat. But for a man who routinely used the Italian defense to explain his handsiness with just about everyone, presented succinctly in a slideshow meant to inoculate him from harm, these rules seemingly do not apply.