CNN’s ‘Red Wedding’ continues
For those who thought CNN’s troubles were put behind it when then-President Jeff Zucker resigned last month, former news anchor Chris Cuomo appears to be trying to ensure that things get worse before they get better.
Cuomo is seeking $125 million from CNN, a laughable amount that he nonetheless believes he’s owed for wrongful termination. Cuomo was fired in December 2021 after an investigation revealed he was advising his brother, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), on how to push back against sexual harassment allegations made against him by younger female staffers.
But this isn’t some behind-the-scenes negotiation; rather it’s a scorched-earth strategy that is playing out like a modern-day, nonfictional version of the infamous “Red Wedding” episode of “Game of Thrones.”
In said episode, two prominent families (House Stark and House Frey), who also serve as political and military allies, get together for what appears to be a happy wedding ceremony and reception for most of the episode. But the host family, the Freys, suddenly turn on the Starks for breaking a marriage pact. A massacre ensues. The Starks are helplessly slaughtered. They never saw it coming.
CNN has become a real-life version of this episode, with House Cuomo taking down its former ally in House Lemon. And House Zucker. And House Tapper. And House Toobin. The list goes on, and it ain’t pretty.
“CNN has a long-established pattern and practice of selectively enforcing its policies based on cynical calculations of public perception,” a Wednesday filing by Chris Cuomo’s legal team read. “Indeed, CNN fostered a culture in which ‘exceptions’ to the network’s standards and practices were routinely sanctioned, and that culture began at the top with Zucker and Gollust. As long as CNN’s ratings would not be hurt, Zucker and [Chief Marketing Officer Allison] Gollust were more than willing to overlook major transgressions by CNN personalities such as Don Lemon and Jake Tapper, or even to engage in blatant misconduct themselves.”
Chris Cuomo certainly knows about the network making exceptions to policy. Two years ago, as COVID-19 suddenly shut down the country, CNN allowed him to interview Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York. The interviews were clearly designed to elevate the then-governor while disparaging then-President Trump, according to explosive texts obtained by Rolling Stone magazine.
Gollust emailed a programing staffer, cc’ing Zucker, and offered Andrew Cuomo to talk about Trump’s proposed quarantine. She told Zucker that the then-governor wanted to speak with him, according to Rolling Stone.
“Well done. … Cuomo-W. Trump-L,” Gollust, who once served as Andrew Cuomo’s publicist, texted him after that CNN appearance.
So, on this front, Chris Cuomo is correct. The two people responsible for his firing did break their own rules. But the anchor’s hypocrisy is as big as his ego. He used his 9 p.m. platform to elevate his brother for months without ever mentioning a COVID-19 nursing home death cover-up in New York. The result? Improved ratings and great press for Chris Cuomo — and a $5.1 million book deal for Andrew Cuomo, whom much of the media elevated to the top authority on COVID-19 despite a horrific death toll in New York.
But the part of the legal filing against CNN that really stands out is Chris Cuomo taking direct aim at Lemon, whose show followed “Cuomo Prime Time.” The cheesy handoff from Cuomo to Lemon, suggesting mutual respect and affection between the hosts, became a nightly staple.
Fast-forward to March 2022. Cuomo is no longer with the network. Lemon still is, despite breaking a network rule by intervening in an active criminal investigation against actor Jussie Smollett, who invented a hate crime attack carried out by Trump supporters.
During his trial, Smollett testified that Lemon had warned him via text that Chicago police detectives didn’t believe his accusations at the time.
“Intervening in the ongoing investigation by texting Smollett was an inexcusable breach of ethics,” Cuomo’s legal team argued. “Yet CNN did nothing; Lemon was not disciplined in any way.” Lemon’s actions, it said, were a “flagrant breach of journalistic ethics.”
Tapper was also raised in the Cuomo filing for reportedly advising a Pennsylvania congressional candidate
“Tapper reportedly repeated this advice in a phone call, text messages, and direct Twitter messages, one of which Fox News obtained and published,” the filing read.
“After the story broke, Tapper reportedly reached out to [Sean] Parnell repeatedly asking him to make a joint statement to clear Tapper’s name of this obvious breach of journalistic ethics. CNN conducted no inquiry and imposed no disciplinary measures on Tapper,” it added.
Another point of contention for Cuomo was Jeffrey Toobin’s self-serving behavior and CNN declining to discipline the analyst.
“Similarly, in October 2020, CNN’s chief political analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, was suspended and fired by The New Yorker, where he also served as a staff writer, after he masturbated while on a video call with colleagues,” the filing added. “Despite this sordid act of sexual harassment, CNN took no disciplinary action against Toobin; instead, CNN permitted Toobin to take a seven-month ‘hiatus’ to ‘deal with a personal issue.’ CNN later allowed Toobin to return to work without even issuing a public apology.”
CNN PR hasn’t commented on the filing and likely won’t.
It’s amazing to think where CNN was two years ago compared to now. Its top-rated anchor is not only out but seemingly looking to take his former colleagues and BFFs with him.
Its longtime network president and his girlfriend, who was also his top lieutenant, are also gone.
A new president, Chris Licht, will be its next leader, likely starting May. 1.
He inherits an ongoing battle that makes “The Red Wedding” look like an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress.”
Licht is promising big changes. The good news for him is that there’s only one direction to go: up.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.