Wemple OpEd: CNN is awfully quiet about Chris Cuomo

Erik Wemple
Washington Post

CNN isn't a quiet place. As American politics and media have gotten louder and louder, so have its hosts and commentators, whether the topic is former president Donald Trump's threat to the country, the ravages of Fox News or the natural disaster of the week.

Yet a hush has settled in at the network over journalist Shelley Ross's claim that CNN host Chris Cuomo grabbed her buttock in 2005. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Ross, who served as Cuomo's boss at ABC's "Primetime Live," recounted how she ran into Cuomo at a going-away party for a colleague at a Manhattan bar. "I can do this now that you're no longer my boss," Cuomo reportedly told Ross after the grab. "No you can't," Ross responded, pushing Cuomo away.

Cuomo later sent Ross an email professing to be "ashamed" and extending apologies to Ross and her husband. He issued this statement on Thursday night regarding the episode: "As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it."

It looks as if CNN is going to leave the matter there. Thus far, the network's PR operation has yet to issue a statement about how the company views the matter. On his Friday night program, Cuomo himself didn't mention the story. Nor did host Brian Stelter on the Sunday media show "Reliable Sources." (The "Reliable Sources" newsletter - a joint venture of Stelter and CNN's Oliver Darcy - did cover the controversy.)

So maybe Cuomo & Co. are going to ride this one out. As Politico's Jack Shafer wrote earlier this year, that's a strategy Cuomo and his brother, former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo, share with none other than Trump - and one that requires moxie and enablers.

CNN's reactions to scandals surrounding Chris Cuomo over the past year reveal the network's priorities. When it emerged, for example, that Cuomo and his family had received preferential treatment from New York state for covid tests, CNN issued this statement: "We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees. However, it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would."

And when it emerged that Cuomo had provided advice to his brother over the governor's sexual harassment scandal - even participating in staff discussions on the matter, and counseling defiance - CNN issued a statement saying, in part, "it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor's staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward."

In other words, a slight scolding for a sizable journalistic line-crossing, not to mention for offering advice that conflicted with the host's avowed support for #MeToo principles.

If CNN can speak up - however tepidly - about journalism ethics, can't it offer even a token statement about sexual harassment? Surely the network would be exploding with commentary if the same claim surfaced against a host on a certain competing cable-news network.

We have asked CNN and Cuomo for comment and will update this post if we receive a response.

Author Information: Erik Wemple, The Washington Post's media critic, focuses on the cable-news industry. Before joining The Post, he ran a short-lived and much publicized local online news operation, and for eight years served as editor of Washington City Paper.