WaPo media critic doubts CNN will properly investigate Chris Cuomo, says 'misdeeds' also belong to CNN boss

‘The Five’ react to CNN’s suspension of Chris Cuomo

‘The Five’ panel discusses the network sidelining Cuomo for helping governor brother through scandal

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple tore into CNN for not getting into the bottom of Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s scandals even when “they knew” about it months ago. 

Appearing on Slate’s “What Next” podcast, Wemple was asked what Cuomo’s suspension means for CNN. He responded by first calling CNN an “opportunistic network” that jumps on “any major news story and just crank it,” saying that it will always have viewers because of its “enormous reach” regardless of who is anchoring, but its primetime lineup, including Cuomo, has to rely on the “special sauce” whenever the news cycle simmers, especially in the post-Trump era. 

“They need Chris Cuomo. And that’s why I think up to this point, they have been loath to sanction him or take any sort of disciplinary action over this whole thing,” Wemple said on Thursday. 

Podcast host Mary E. Harris then asked Wemple to explain what he meant in his piece Tuesday, which was published hours before CNN announced the suspension, that “100 percent” of Cuomo’s “are also now the misdeeds” of CNN president Jeff Zucker.

The Post media critic responded by pointing to his paper’s previous reporting from May revealing that the “Cuomo Prime Time” host was participating in strategy sessions with his brother’s team as a “moonlighting political consultant.” 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 08: Jeff Zucker attends the 13th Annual CNN Heroes at the American Museum of Natural History on December 08, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images) _____ Chris Cuomo: CNN Screen capture
(Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images  |  CNN)

“CNN had this information in May, in August. And my point is that they can’t claim to be blindsided in late November, right?” Wemple said. “Because they knew that Chris had done some work with the executive chamber to help his brother and to save his reputation, save his political career.” 

“Yeah, it’s funny because if you look at CNN’s statement after they suspended Chris Cuomo, it does feel like they’re trying to claim that they were blindsided,” Harris told Wemple. “They claim that the documents somehow reveal something they didn’t know before. Do you think that’s bulls—?”

“I think the statement line by line, word by word is accurate and true,” Wemple responded. “But I think it’s also the implication isn’t quite accurate if you understand what I’m saying. The implication is that they couldn’t have known.”

“The reality is that they didn’t try,” Harris added. 

“That’s my point. A hundred percent, Mary. You nailed it,” Wemple told the podcast host. “The thing is that they knew in May and they knew in August that there was a role that Chris played.” 

“Now how would an organization figure out how its employee- how deeply involved its employee was in something? Ask him!” Wemple chuckled. “You know, he’s their employee! Like, they have leverage over this person, you know? So you sit Chris down and you say, ‘How long did you talk to the investigators?’ And he says, ‘Oh, I talked to them for hours on July 15th.’ ‘OK, I want you right now to sit here and give me a two-hour summary of everything they asked you and everything you responded.’ And as much as I say I’m not a huge Chris Cuomo fan, I think he will faithfully gone through that. And it would have been his obligation to. And that’s what a good journalistic employer does.”

CNN’s Chris Cuomo during a televised townhall with Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
(REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Harris summarized that “the real problem” at CNN was that “no one managed this dude,” which Wemple agreed. 

Wemple stressed that he was refraining on calling for Cuomo’s firing, insisting an appropriate punishment is actually a “secondary question” and that the focus should be on the network. 

“The appropriate behavior for the company is to figure everything out and then publish what they found. And so there needs to be, in my view, a CNN investigation of how he may or may not have betrayed the trust of CNN, his colleagues and the viewers,” Wemple said. “CNN doesn’t seem to be going far enough as far as to commit to that investigation. If you read their statements carefully. They stopped short of using the term ‘investigation,’ right? They say a ‘review,’ ‘evaluation.'”

When asked where Cuomo will be in “five years,” Wemple seemed to suggest that he will still be employed by CNN, pointing out “he’s not gone yet.” But even if CNN fired him, Wemple pointed to Cuomo’s fan base that’s big enough for him to carry over no matter where he lands. 

“He will be fine,” Wemple added. 

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