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Cuomo testing story stirs controversy for CNN anchor

CNN should investigate anchor Chris CuomoChris CuomoCNN insults #MeToo movement, provides happy ending for Jeffrey Toobin Club for Growth bashes CNN in social media ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Citizens' Climate Lobby - Biden, Capito meet today as deadline looms MORE and he should publicly talk about allegations he received prioritized COVID-19 testing — ordered by his brother, New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCNN insults #MeToo movement, provides happy ending for Jeffrey Toobin New York lawmakers pass bill allowing gender-neutral 'X' on state ID Republican NY state senator: Single-payer health care bill won't get a vote this week MORE (D) — while reporting on the pandemic, said Matthew Hall, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. 

“What does CNN internal policy say?” Hall asked. “Do they have a code of ethics? Do they have something that would guide this situation and that would spell out sanctions for potential violations? CNN should do an internal probe as well and see if Chris upheld its internal policy and if not, [decide] what it would do.”

In addition, Hall said, Cuomo should be willing to publicly discuss his conduct.

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“To me, Chris should address this immediately on his show,” Hall said. “He should be upfront about it. He should probably grant interviews from outside sources, from journalists outside CNN. I think that would help to answer questions about this that people are going to have.”

Hall is just one of several media observers calling out both CNN and Cuomo after it was alleged that he and other members of the governor’s family received priority COVID-19 testing last year.

The Albany Times Union reported Wednesday that Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker instructed New York State Department of Health personnel to prioritize testing for Cuomo family members, including the CNN anchor. 

As a result, Chris Cuomo was tested in his Long Island home and then learned the results were positive. He announced he had the virus to CNN viewers on March 31 of last year.

CNN spokesman Matt Dornic after the controversy erupted issued a statement saying it was natural for the CNN anchor to reach out to anyone he could for help amid the early weeks of the pandemic.

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“It is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance,” Dornic said in a statement given to the Washington Post.

CNN declined to comment in response to the subsequent reactions. Chris Cuomo did not immediately respond to questions from The Hill about the alleged special treatment and if he discussed it with CNN management or viewers. Cuomo is off the air this week as he takes a previously scheduled vacation, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. A search of CNN’s website for “Howard Zucker,” the name of the New York official who helped the governor arrange his family’s testing, did not produce any recent results.

The recent allegations reignited criticism of the CNN anchor that began last year, when Chris Cuomo interviewed his brother as New York became one of the states hardest hit by COVID-19. The on-air conversations between the two siblings frequently devolved into joking banter. 

The attacks on Chris Cuomo’s interviews grew sharper after the Cuomo administration was accused of downplaying deaths in state nursing homes and worsened further, in late February and early March, after several women accused the governor of sexual harassment. 

The Chris Cuomo was accused of hypocrisy after he stated, at the start of one of his shows this March, that his conflict of interest as a brother would prevent him from covering those allegations.  

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Wednesday’s allegations of Cuomo family favoritism have drawn more unfavorable questions about Cuomo’s reporting from people like Erik Wemple, media critic for The Washington Post.

“It appears Chris Cuomo has never said anything public about it,” Wemple said. “Did he tell anyone internally? Did he tell his producers? Did he tell [CNN President Jeff] Zucker or anybody that he had gotten this treatment, something the average person couldn't have gotten through his brother and then interviewed him?”

Wemple said it’s difficult to understand CNN’s approach to their anchor’s latest controversy.

“I don’t know quite what to call it,” Wemple told The Hill. “But I would say it is unseemly how they are dealing with it. This is a clear violation of any journalistic standard. Getting special treatment through your brother through New York state then having him on for interviews and very cushy, sweet, favorable interviews is a real straight up, unquestionable conflict of interest and a betrayal of viewers.”

CNN’s reaction to the recent controversy, Hall said, makes it seem as if the cable outlet is unable to apply clear standards about conflicts of interest to Cuomo’s reporting.

“From the get go, CNN should have had a clear policy about the brothers and how they would interact. And it clearly didn't,” Hall said. “It allowed the brothers to talk when Chris got sick. And then when the governor got embroiled in controversy said that they wouldn't talk. Now that probably should've been a policy from the beginning, and it should have been relayed to viewers continually. And that complicates what's happening now.”

Over the years, CNN changed its mind at least three times on whether Cuomo could report on his brother. The New York Times reported in a column last year that network executives ordered the anchor not to report on his brother in 2013.

That policy was obviously changed during the pandemic, when the governor appeared on Cuomo’s show and then was reversed again, after the sexual allegations were raised this spring. 

At this point, Hall said, only complete transparency can treat CNN’s Cuomo malaise.

“CNN needs to address this publicly and share its policies to help restore trust. And CNN also needs to cover this,” Hall said. “At the heart of this is a story about a governor who rushed testing for family members and people close to him and had health officials pay house visits and really fast track lab results.”