‘Keeping Up With the Cuomos’ becomes a full-blown scandal for once-beloved tandem
“I was nervous for Chris; he’s my little brother, and I’ve always been there for him. He was staying at home with his three kids and wife, confined to the basement, and he couldn’t see anyone else.”
That’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) speaking about his brother, Chris, the most-watched “anchor” on CNN in 2020. Part of the reason Chris Cuomo performed well against his peers was because of multiple interviews with his governor brother, who was already being propped up by the media as the anti-Trump: A true leader, an empathetic fatherly figure with a killer PowerPoint presentation presented at daily briefings carried daily on national TV.
It was about one year ago that CNN’s Cuomo announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. In the weeks that followed, the anchor broadcasted from his Hamptons basement while sharing his personal struggles with the novel virus. He shared with his older brother that he had recently experienced hallucinations of their father, the late Mario Cuomo.
If Chris Cuomo had interviewed Andrew Cuomo once, he wouldn’t have been criticized much. Here you had the popular governor as the face of the epicenter of the pandemic and a TV brother dealing with a deadly disease on the air in real time. But once became twice, then five times, then ten. The interviews were a combination of serious talk about an unprecedented pandemic and playfulness between two brothers. And the press ate it up with few objections to the obvious conflict of interest playing out.
Apr. 2, 2020: Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives emotional update on brother Chris Cuomo’s coronavirus: ‘I’m worried’ – USA Today
Apr. 2, 2020: The love, drama and comedy of New York’s Cuomo brothers is enlivening coronavirus television – Associated Press
Apr. 4, 2020: The Cuomo brothers put on quite a show. Should the journalism-ethics police shut it down? – Washington Post
But another story began to brew regarding New York nursing homes that was becoming impossible to ignore. On Mar. 23, 2020, Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order sending thousands of recovering COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes, which was like taking a flamethrower to dry grass in terms of spreading the disease among the most vulnerable.
“It was the single dumbest decision anyone could make if they wanted to kill people,” one New York resident who lost his father told the Associated Press in May.
An unlikely critic also emerged in the form of apolitical Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean, who lost both her in-laws due to Cuomo’s executive order. The usually soft-spoken Dean began to share her frustrations regarding Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes and the Cuomo brother interviews on Twitter before it was fashionable to do so.
There are no words to explain how furious I am. Grateful to the journalists who keep looking into this real life nightmare so many families including mine are living through. https://t.co/E64c6fjVsW
— Janice Dean (@JaniceDean) May 16, 2020
A big turning point in the cable news version of “Keeping Up With the Cuomos” occurred when the anchor brought on a giant cotton swab prop to bust his brother’s chops on the size of his nose as it pertained to getting a nasal COVID test. Critics, led by Dean, panned the segment for its cheesiness at a time when New Yorkers and Americans were still dying at an alarming rate and the nursing home scandal was gaining steam — a topic Chris mentioned only in passing after failing to do so in the first ten interviews conducted.
Awww. @NYGovCuomo is auditioning for a new comedy show with @ChrisCuomo on @CNN. Of course the Gov didn’t address the thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes in New York. (Roughly 20 percent of all deaths in our state). Enjoy the giant swab! https://t.co/U5Yl487oUm
— Janice Dean (@JaniceDean) May 21, 2020
The anchor himself also promoted the segments and his brother heavily, even going so far as to say that Cuomo’s New York – which easily had the highest death toll in the country – was “doing way better than we see elsewhere without the Luv Guv dishing the real 24/7.”
Not objective but true,the facts tell the story.NY had & has its struggles but they’re doing way better than what we see elsewhere & no way that happens without the Luv Guv dishing the real 24/7.He works with relentless intensity & NY’s better for it.And as a brother, I am proud. pic.twitter.com/M1TrAtQwCo
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) June 25, 2020
“Obviously I love you as a brother, obviously I’ll never be objective, obviously I think you’re the best politician in the country,” the anchor proclaimed on the air in a June 2020 interview.
“And you do what is right,” the governor replied. “You tell the truth… whether they like it or not.”
How ridiculous this exchange looks now.
And once great press turned to bad press for the aforementioned Luv Guv, CNN announced that Chris would no longer be able to interview or discuss the big news/controversy surrounding his brother.
“Obviously I am aware of what is going on with my brother. And obviously I cannot cover it because he is my brother,” Chris announced on his program on Mar. 2. Well, that’s convenient.
The “obviously” thing regarding not covering his brother was painfully obvious one year ago when he served as the governor’s chief marketing and public relations officer interview after interview. Now that it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient, the anchor can hide behind the banned-from-covering-your-governor-brother thing.
In the past few months, it has been alleged that the Cuomo administration intentionally covered up the number of deaths in New York nursing homes.
“Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys [reporters] and what we start saying was going to be used against us, and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” Cuomo senior aide Melissa DeRosa told Democratic leaders last month in comments first reported by The New York Post.
Ooof. That’s literally an admission of a coverup. An FBI investigation has been launched, as has one led by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James.
The governor has also been accused by eight women, all of whom have worked for him, with some being 30-40 years younger, of sexual harassment and misconduct. He denies all the claims, which range from inappropriate comments to unwanted sexual advances.
The New York State Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, launched an impeachment inquiry recently to include both the harassment allegation and the nursing homes scandal.
But it was also revealed this week in a bombshell report that the governor was providing family members, including Chris, priority testing at the beginning of the pandemic. The Albany Times-Union reported that the anchor, along with one of his sisters and mother Matilda Cuomo, received testing conducted by high-ranking members of the state health department at a private home, with state troopers acting as couriers for samples, according to the report.
Attorney General James is urging for an ethics probe as a result.
So, think about it: While “Keeping Up With the Cuomos” was in full swing, anchor Chris was well aware of the nursing homes scandal but didn’t dare to direct even one question about it to his brother because of a conflict of interest. Chris was also receiving serious preferential treatment around testing when little was available to the general public.
And when things went south for the governor, he was able to hide behind a “rule” that he couldn’t cover his brother.
This is obviously an ethical nightmare for CNN, which has already seen its ratings plummet by almost 50 percent since January now that Donald Trump is off the big stage.
CNN’s argument was always that it was the objective network — down the middle, far apart from its competitors on the left and right.
That position is a distant memory.
“We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees,” a CNN spokesman explained in a Thursday statement that ignored the obvious ethical questions. “However, 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, as any human being would.”
All networks have their controversies big and small. Most can eventually shake them off and move on. But the Cuomo brothers show is decidedly different. You can point the finger at the governor and at the anchor.
But most of all, you can point the finger at the network that somehow allowed it all to happen.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.