CNN fires Chris Cuomo over help to brother in ex-governor’s sex scandal

CNN has fired star host Chris Cuomo “effective immediately”, days after the New York attorney-general detailed how the journalist had helped in the defence of his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, against sexual harassment allegations.

On Saturday, CNN said: “We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review and have terminated [Chris Cuomo], effective immediately.”

“While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light,” the TV network said, adding: “Despite the termination, we will continue to investigate as appropriate.”

Andrew Cuomo was forced to resign in August after Letitia James, the New York attorney-general, found that he had violated state and federal law by sexually harassing 11 women.

CNN said the anchor of the “Cuomo Prime Time” programme had admitted that he broke the network’s rules when he offered advice to his brother’s staff on how to deal with the scandal. But the documents released by James’ office on Monday showed a much deeper involvement than had been previously known, the network said.

In a statement, Chris Cuomo said: “This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother.”

He praised the team who worked on “Cuomo Prime Time”. “I owe them all and will miss that special group of people who did really important work,” he added.

The firing underlines how problematic Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defence has been for CNN, which is owned by AT&T but is preparing for a new owner. AT&T has agreed to sell its WarnerMedia arm, which owns CNN as well as the HBO network, to Discovery.

After being praised for decisive action in the early days of the pandemic, support for Andrew Cuomo declined precipitously. He was forced to resign as governor of New York earlier this year after multiple women accused him of sexual assault.

While Chris Cuomo did not cover the news on his show, he advised his brother’s senior aides on navigating the crisis and sought to find out what rival news outlets were working on.

Cuomo joined CNN in 2013 and rose to become one of its star anchors, taking the primetime 9pm slot on the network’s schedule during the turbulent Trump era. Cuomo’s conflict of interest became more acute when his brother rose to national stardom during the pandemic as the Democratic governor of New York, hosting daily press conferences on the coronavirus.

CNN was criticised for blurring ethical lines at points during that time, particularly after airing interviews between the brothers in which the two exchanged sibling banter.

Once it was revealed that Chris Cuomo had been advising the governor on how to handle sexual harassment allegations, other CNN journalists expressed their discomfort with the situation.

Jake Tapper in May told the New York Times: “I cannot imagine a world in which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate.”

The scandal comes as David Zaslav, the Discovery chief executive, prepares to run the combined Warner-Discovery company once that deal closes.

Zaslav visited CNN’s headquarters on Tuesday for a pre-scheduled meeting with top executives, according to people familiar with the matter.

A few hours later, CNN announced that Cuomo was suspended indefinitely.

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