As New York governor Andrew Cuomo faced multiple credible sexual-misconduct allegations this spring, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo went on-air to state his journalistic independence from the crisis threatening his older brother’s career. “Obviously I cannot cover it because he is my brother,” Cuomo said on March 1, the day a third accuser came forward. “Now, of course CNN has to cover it. They have covered it extensively and they will continue to do so. I have always cared very deeply about these issues, and profoundly so. I just want to tell you that.”
According to a report from the Washington Post, Chris Cuomo expressed that care and independence by advising his brother on how to stay afloat amid widespread calls for his resignation:
Cuomo, one of the network’s top stars, joined a series of conference calls that included the Democratic governor’s top aide, his communications team, lawyers, and a number of outside advisers, according to the people familiar with the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private sessions …
The cable-news anchor encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office, the people said. At one point, he used the phrase “cancel culture” as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations, two people present on one call said.
As for the reasoning that the governor would expose his brother at the second-most-watched news network to such an obvious conflict of interest, one of Cuomo’s advisers told the Post that the “governor only trusts about five people … so that’s why Chris is on these calls.” (It appears that the governor’s development of a toxic workplace has closed the circle of people he can rely upon.) In a statement on Thursday, CNN said it was “inappropriate” for its host to advise his brother. Nicholas Lemann, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, put it more directly: “If you are actively advising a politician in trouble while being an on-air host on a news network, that’s not okay,” he told the Post.
The report that Chris Cuomo was advising his older brother in private as he feigned neutrality in public is one of several concerning developments in the pair’s relationship in the pandemic year. At the beginning of the pandemic, the CNN host’s ratings soared as he fawningly interviewed his brother about developments in New York, then the epicenter of the outbreak. That good press helped polish the governor’s reputation as he mishandled key aspects of the shutdown, including a botched order that killed thousands in New York nursing homes, a scandal his administration then attempted to cover up.
Allegations that the governor’s office manipulated that data are now being investigated as part of a criminal inquiry by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who are also looking into another reported conflict of interest between the brothers: When coronavirus tests were scarce at the beginning of the pandemic, the governor enrolled members of his family and staff in a VIP program granting them priority access to much-needed tests.
While the state doctor who traveled to the Hamptons to administer tests to Chris Cuomo and his family has resigned from her position in the health department, the governor has taken his brother’s advice. “I’m not going anywhere,” Cuomo said in a recent phone call, according to one ally who spoke with the Post.