Too often—and yes, I do tire of pointing it out—the nefarious forces of dishonest, morally bankrupt journalism emanate from the right and far right. As when Alex Jones hammered home the savage pseudo-story that the 2021 Sandy Hook massacre of 26 educators and school children was a staged liberal act. Good for him; he’ll soon be financially bankrupt as well. Even a court in Red State Texas recently ruled against him in the face of multiple lawsuits. May you sell your bogus nutritional supplements from a cardboard box: the one you’ll soon live in.
Yet when disgrace happens on the media left, I must stick to my guns. The fact is, those who lie and bend the system to deliver an unfair advantage to a devious person qualify as Not Fit for Prime Time, Now or Any Time. Such is the case with Chris Cuomo, recently fired from CNN after bombshell revelations that he advised his brother, ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on how to handle sexual abuse allegations—in part by digging dirt on the accusers.
The stupidity behind such a career-ending move—I would not hire Chris to fetch my slippers and Starbucks mocha—continues to baffle his colleagues, media mavens and more than a few of his conservative enemies. In fact, I haven’t heard a ton of tasteless gloating from the other side. It reminds me of how Fox’s Roger Ailes, when he went down in flames over his own sex harassment allegations–shared by 20-some women–didn’t drag his belongings out of the corner office to the sounds of liberal whooping and high fives.
In both cases, what can you say? Maybe nothing… though that won’t stop me from penning a column about the Cuomo, because I have a plausible angle on this that I haven’t read or heard anywhere else.
Here’s where we got fooled
Just as Andrew Cuomo was the face of a tough, hands-on response to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, so too was brother Chris offering a fighter’s perspective from a personal viewpoint. There’s nothing like when journalism gets appropriately confessional, and it was gripping to watch the CNN star broadcasting from his basement at home, talking about how the coronavirus was kicking his ass with fever, chills and the head game of its uncertain endgame. Death, perhaps? Cuomo shared with uncommon bravery and vulnerability.
Given how heroic these two men looked just months ago, how did it all unravel? Much has been written about Andrew’s reprehensible behavior—harassment, intimidation, cover up—that it’s not worth rehashing here. But why, oh why, would an otherwise sterling media star risk ruin by protecting slime ball kin?
The question implies the answer: Kin. Brotherly love. Fraternal loyalty. None of this is a pass, but an explanation. Love is irrational—always irrational, because it is an emotion and an interpersonal bond that overlooks flaws—and self-evidently explains why our better, rational natures fly out the window.
But beyond this, you should know: Italian Americans (and I speak as a full-blooded one) often put family over everything else.
I know, Chris Cuomo–because teenage Lou almost went there
Here I’d like to point out that the word “mafia” is a contraction of the phrase ma famiglia: my family. The Cuomo boys have strong Italian roots and their parents hail from Sicily and the Campagna region, which encompasses Naples. I have direct roots in both places, too. Maybe our ancestors were neighbors, arguing over whose mule wandered into whose kitchen and left behind a present at dinnertime.
Over and over and over and over, my father lectured me as I grew up about how family came above all else. This became especially troubling when I saw him engage in a life of compulsive gambling and con artistry. There for the grace of God, and my mother’s strong influence, I would’ve followed the same path. (In fact, I started changing the bad grades on my high school report cards into good ones with a forger’s deft skill.) And certainly, I pushed back more than occasionally against those who badmouthed him.
Maybe that is why I love the place I’ve landed four decades since. My work at Qwoted cuts in the opposite direction: to help journalists find authentic sources who will tell the truth to the best of their ability. We get to support best practices and new technologies though the work of our advisory board. I get to help our profession shine a light in dark places—and not, as CNN’s newly minted disgrace did, wrap the cleansing spotlight of truth in a vampire’s cape of pitch-black intent and obfuscation.
Dammit. Dammit. What a moron. There’s no way around it: Chris Cuomo lied and deceived. He lied to the CNN brass and his co-workers about how deep he was into helping his politician brother. As one trusted to uphold the truth, he betrayed his profession by looking for dirt that sought to spin troubling allegations into a conspiracy, not investigate them.
And so, there it lies
Alas, game over. Never in my life would I have imagined that Chris Cuomo, a hero to me and champion of hard-hitting liberal journalism/op-ed rooted, would go down in Fourth Estate flames like this. Now he joins the disgraced ranks of Jayson Blair (The New York Times), Stephen Glass (New Republic), Janet Cooke (Washington Post) and Jack Kelley (USA Today)—dishonest prevaricators, media pond scum, every single one.
But there it is: Let the evidence speak for itself. Why don’t you join the crowd, CC, and come inside? Because as each of these people will tell you, the journalist who deserves the mantle discovers in time: Lying just once, and getting caught, kills your reputation. So go ahead. Write a tell-all (Blair did), flagellate yourself in public, team up with your bro to become reality show circus freaks. None of it will help you recover what you’ve lost. Because once you’ve lied boldly and publicly, I would contend it’s simple: One strike and you’re out.
So if you like, Chris, keep the sports metaphor in the family. Your father Mario Cuomo, another New York governor, gave up his baseball dreams as a center fielder to serve the public with dignity and honor. I cannot imagine what he’d think of the mess you and Andrew made for yourselves, and the Cuomo family, today.
He’d weep, I suppose. Because the broken promises and broken covenants of sons inevitably lead to the broken hearts of fathers.