Chris Cuomo was already doomed at CNN after the New York state attorney general’s report described the extent of his role in guiding his brother Andrew’s sexual harassment crisis.
But a sexual misconduct claim against the fired anchor — made by a former colleague at ABC News — accelerated the stunning end of his career at the cable news network.
Cuomo’s termination Saturday ended a long embarrassing chapter at CNN, where network President Jeff Zucker and his team went to great lengths to retain one of the network’s most popular anchors in the face of mounting problems that damaged the organization’s reputation.
CNN suspended Cuomo on Tuesday, a day after the release of a report from the office of New York state Attorney General Letitia James showing that the journalist was deeply involved in shaping the defense of former governor Andrew Cuomo against harassment allegations. Andrew Cuomo resigned as governor in August.
An outside law firm was brought in by CNN to review the testimony by Chris Cuomo and other materials, such as text messages, which depict him developing strategies that included contacting journalists covering his brother’s situation. The probe found that Chris Cuomo committed a significant violation of CNN’s journalistic standards that prohibit an employee from acting on behalf of a political figure or cause and that the network had grounds to fire him.
Cuomo’s situation took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when attorney Debra Katz informed CNN that she represented a former ABC News colleague of Cuomo’s who accused him of sexual misconduct. Cuomo worked at ABC News from 2000 until he moved to CNN in 2013.
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Katz said by Friday she 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.”
Katz is not identifying her client, who was an underling to Cuomo during his tenure at ABC News. She would not reveal the details of the allegations beyond describing them as “serious sexual misconduct.”
Katz said the woman decided to come forward after hearing details of the attorney general’s report and Chris Cuomo’s on-air proclamations that he “cared very deeply” about the issue of sexual harassment.
“The attorney general released jaw-dropping documentary evidence demonstrating that Chris Cuomo played an active role in attempting to smear women whom the attorney general concluded had made serious allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct against the governor,” Katz said. “Hearing the hypocrisy of Chris Cuomo’s on-air words and disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women, my client retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN.”
Katz said her client “came forward at this time because she felt in sharing her story and related documentation, she could help protect other women.”
A representative for Chris Cuomo denied the allegations.
“These apparently anonymous allegations are not true,” the representative said in a statement. “If the goal in making these false and unvetted accusations was to see Mr. Cuomo punished by CNN, that may explain his unwarranted termination.”
A representative for CNN said in a statement Saturday that the network already had a reason to fire Cuomo before the sexual misconduct matter was raised.
“When new allegations came to us this week, we took them seriously, and saw no reason to delay taking actions,” the representative said.
Privately, CNN insiders say the network did not want to be in the position of having to defend Cuomo over allegations that involved his previous company when his current role was already in serious jeopardy.
CNN executives also believe that the New York Times, which broke the news Saturday about the ABC News employee’s complaint, will soon have a story with details of the allegations.
CNN executives were already dealing with anger and frustration among staff members over how Cuomo was allowed to stay on the air after his involvement with his brother’s defense was revealed in May. The details in the attorney general’s report only heightened those feelings, according to insiders.
Cuomo was the most watched personality on CNN, which for years struggled to get appointment programs in its lineup that viewers would tune in to on a regular basis.
His high-energy combative style made him compelling to audiences. But Cuomo’s strong appeal may have led to poor decisions at CNN that preceded the crisis.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, CNN waived a long-standing policy that Chris Cuomo not report on his brother. The two appeared together on air about a dozen times as Andrew Cuomo had become a praiseworthy figure in his aggressive communication efforts when New York was hard hit by the virus.
While journalism critics frowned on the joint appearances, they were popular with viewers. The last one, in May 2020, had Chris Cuomo wielding a giant cotton test swab while poking fun at the governor.
The segments looked especially ill-advised after Andrew Cuomo’s fortunes changed. Later in 2020, it was revealed that his office undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths that occurred in the state’s nursing homes. The Department of Health ordered nursing homes to take COVID-positive patients, even though there was an ample supply of hospital beds to handle them, according to press reports.
After news of Andrew Cuomo’s harassment scandal broke in early 2021, Chris Cuomo told viewers on March 1 that he could not cover his brother’s scandals on his program and has steered clear of them.
In May, he found himself apologizing to viewers and colleagues when a Washington Post report found Cuomo had been advising his brother on how to navigate the crisis, including participation on the former governor’s staff calls.
Still there were no disciplinary measures, and Cuomo remained on the air. It left the anchor and CNN open to the kind of criticism the network’s commentators have often aimed at Fox News, where opinion hosts advised Donald Trump while he was in the White House.
With Cuomo gone, weekend CNN host Michael Smerconish will fill in on the 9 p.m. Eastern hour this week as the network develops plans for a permanent replacement program.