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    Sunday, August 07, 2022

    Chris Cuomo's egregious behavior

    CNN commentator Chris Cuomo's recent fall from grace is another example of how the blurring of reporting and opinion on cable TV news channels does a disservice to viewers, who more than ever need objective journalism to inform their decisions.

    Cuomo, the brother of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, has admitted to being involved in the governor's response to charges he sexually harassed female staff members.

    Although the younger Cuomo maintains he never tried to influence media coverage of the accusations, he did tell investigators he had chased down leads about the governor's alleged victims. He also said he had been kept "in the loop" with his brother's advisors and had acted as a "satellite" of the governor's staff, according to the New York Times.

    Documents and testimony released by the New York state attorney general's office also show that Cuomo was gathering "intel" on stories other reporters were working on regarding his brother.

    It bears examining just how egregious this behavior is.

    Chris Cuomo, a full-time employee of CNN who regularly comments and reports on political issues, used his journalistic know-how and contacts to try to dig up dirt about his brother's accusers and to monitor other reporters' work.

    Journalists' first fidelity is to the readers and viewers who depend upon them for reliable information. By communicating with, and working on behalf of, his brother's aides, Chris Cuomo inserted himself into a news story, putting family ties ahead of his duty to report the news.

    Did he share any information he gathered with his bosses or colleagues at CNN, who presumably were covering this story?

    Did he stop to consider how helping his brother might affect his own credibility as a journalist and that of his coworkers?

    The trouble with Chris Cuomo started long before the allegations against his brother. In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuomo regularly invited the governor to participate in his weeknight show. Viewers may have tuned in for the banter between the two men, but they also expected that this "special guest" would offer insights into New York's battle against the virus. At the time, Governor Cuomo was being hailed as a beacon of Covid transparency, especially compared to the Trump White House.

    This beacon would later be dimmed when the governor was accused of manipulating Covid statistics to obscure the death rate in nursing homes.

    Viewers would not be getting any hard questions from Chris Cuomo in the chummy repartee that ensued between the brothers.

    The CNN higher-ups never should have allowed their employee to interview his own brother on TV, no matter how tempting the ratings bump might be. The interviews put Chris Cuomo and his network in a compromising position.

    More important is the big picture here. Cable news over the last 25 years has blurred the lines so much between news and commentary that it is difficult to determine what is factual.

    Cuomo is the host of a commentary show, but he presents himself as a crusader exposing truths. This is true as well of right-wing hosts on Fox News, such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.

    The audience is expected to understand that these shows are opinion mixed with entertainment. But many viewers take the program content as gospel.

    Print reporters are not exempt from this problem, either. When journalists like Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post appear as guests on cable news shows to discuss their latest scoop, too often the conversation veers from fact to "analysis" and "interpretation" — bosom buddies of opinion.

    All of this tarnishes the reputations of working journalists, print and broadcast, who are endeavoring to give readers and viewers the truth in an unbiased and balanced way.

    Chris Cuomo, placed last week on indefinite leave, may lose his job. But that won't solve the problem. Since the repeal of the fairness doctrine in 1987, cable TV has been a minefield of lopsided opinion. It's time to return balance and integrity to broadcast journalism. If the cable channels won't do it, Congress or the FCC need to step in.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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