For former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, when it rains it pours.
First, he was fired last week from CNN. Next, he left his radio show on Sirius XM. Then on Tuesday, HarperCollins said it is pulling a planned book by Cuomo. "Deep Denial" was to be released in the fall of next year through Custom House, an imprint of William Morrow.
Beneath the public spectacle of Cuomo’s fall is a fundamental journalism ethics question — and a surprisingly significant number of seem not to understand that.
Cuomo was fired after revelations that his involvement in the defense of his brother, then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, against accusations of sexual harassment, had been more vigorous than previously disclosed.
Cuomo allegedly sought to gather information about one of the women accusing his brother. He played a role in the behind-the-scenes strategizing, and used his contacts to track down news organizations that might have stories in the works about Andrew Cuomo.
In this context, some journalists weighed in on the situation. “I confess to some ambivalence about Chris Cuomo’s suspension,” the former New York Times journalist Clyde Haberman wrote. It was deserved, Haberman said, but “wouldn’t you help your brother if he fell into trouble, even of his own making?”
The CNN opinion writer Chris Cillizza wrote: “Chris Cuomo is my friend. I would *never* walk away from a friend — in good times or bad.” Cillizza added that he supported CNN’s decision.
Then the blogger and journalist Matthew Yglesias apparently wrote in a since deleted tweet: “If my brother ever gets embroiled in scandal, I’m gonna do some unethical shit to help him out.”
For a lot of people, this “family first” approach — putting relatives before your job — is a natural impulse. Also, many perceive this as another example of cancel culture run amok. But that’s wrong. For a journalist, it’s a violation of trust. Putting family first might be appropriate if you work in one industry and offer advice to a family member in an unrelated industry who was fired. It doesn’t work if you’re a reporter on a prime-time news show and your brother is one of the most powerful governors in the country, accused of recidivist sexual harassment.
The Washington Post opinion writer Margaret Sullivan summed it up in a recent column. “Putting “family first” may sound appealing,” she wrote. “But in this case, it’s nothing but an excuse for unethical behavior and a breach of journalistic standards.”