CNN fired Chris Cuomo after a sexual misconduct allegation was made against him at the same time he was under investigation by the network for helping his brother, the former New York governor, defend against his own harassment claims.
On Sunday, Debra Katz, a prominent US employment lawyer, said that her client had reported sexual misconduct allegations about Cuomo to CNN on Wednesday.
“By Friday, I was in discussions with CNN about providing documentary evidence of my client’s allegations and making my client available for an interview with CNN’s outside counsel. Last night, CNN acted promptly on my client’s complaint and fired Mr Cuomo,” Katz said.
Last week, the New York attorney-general detailed how the journalist had helped defend brother Andrew Cuomo against multiple sexual assault allegations while New York governor.
On Sunday, CNN said: “Based on the report we received regarding Chris’s conduct with his brother’s defense, we had cause to terminate. When new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no reason to delay taking immediate action.”
Chris Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the sexual misconduct claim.
His brother Andrew was forced to resign as governor in August after Letitia James, New York’s attorney-general, found that he had violated state and federal law by sexually harassing 11 women.
CNN said the anchor of “Cuomo Prime Time” 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’s office on Monday showed a much deeper involvement than had been previously known, the network said.
In a statement over the weekend, 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 at “Cuomo Prime Time”, saying: “I owe them all and will miss that special group of people who did really important work.”
Katz said her client reported the claim to CNN after “hearing the hypocrisy of Chris Cuomo’s on-air words and disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women”.
She referred to a broadcast in which the journalist spoke about the allegations against his brother, saying “I have always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so. I just wanted to tell you that.”
The firing underlined how problematic Cuomo’s behaviour and involvement in his brother’s defence had become 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 coronavirus pandemic as New York governor, support for Andrew Cuomo declined precipitously as multiple women came forward this year to accuse 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 stories 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 Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency.
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 virus.
CNN was criticised for blurring ethical lines, 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.
Jake Tapper told the New York Times in May: “I cannot imagine a world in which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate.”
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