Chris Cuomo suspension leaves his future at CNN uncertain

Chris Cuomo is facing an uncertain future at CNN following his suspension from anchoring duties this week.

The network's suspension of Cuomo over his efforts to help is brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), deal with sexual harassment allegations, has roiled the outlet internally, sent conservative critics into a gleeful frenzy and sparked debate about ethical standards in national media.

"This wasn't just brothers talking about their lives, or even about politics," Elisa Batista, campaign director at UltraViolet, a leading national gender justice organization, said in a statement released before the suspension.

"This was a major network news anchor actively working to support the former Governor of New York in pushing back against sexual harassment allegations and denigrating survivors of abuse. CNN should immediately sever ties with Chris Cuomo. Anything less is unacceptable, and further harms survivors of sexual abuse."

CNN is conducting a review of Cuomo's conduct, and has not given a timeline on how long this will take or how it will ultimately be adjudicated. The network did not respond to a request for additional comment late this week.

Cuomo has been a leading star for the network, but his cozy interviews in 2020 with his brother, who at the time was riding a wave of positive media for his handling of the coronavirus, is looking worse and worse with the passage of time.

"It's extremely ironic that a professional like Chris Cuomo who has covered a number of crises and was attempting to help his brother with a crisis, has in fact created a crisis for his network," said Eric Rose, a crisis communications expert based in Los Angeles. "No matter what they [CNN] do, they're going to upset a number of people. The fact that he misled CNN, that the evidence is now before them, requires them to take swift and immediate action. If for nothing else, so that the story can fade away and they can be moving on with their news operations."

CNN itself reported on Tuesday that Cuomo's suspension came after staffers at the network had internally expressed dismay at the anchor's conduct. Fellow CNN anchor Anderson Cooper anchored Cuomo's 9 p.m. hour that evening and will do so for the duration of his suspension, which is indefinite, the network said.

"You have some colleagues here at CNN who are mad at Chris Cuomo for putting the network in a tough spot and wanted to see action," CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said on the network's morning program "New Day" on Wednesday following the suspension.

But Stelter also suggested that there is some pressure on CNN to stick with Cuomo.

"You also have a lot of viewers who love Chris Cuomo and are now ticked off that's off the air."

Cuomo's public comments since his suspension do not suggest he thinks his CNN career is over.

"It hurts to even say it. It's embarrassing," Cuomo said Wednesday of his suspension while speaking on the daytime talk show he hosts on SiriusXM radio.

"But I understand it. And I understand why some people feel the way they do about what I did. I've apologized in the past, and I mean it," Cuomo said on his radio show. "It's the last thing I ever wanted to do, was compromise any of my colleagues and do anything but help. I know they have a process that they think is important. I respect that process, so I'm not going to talk about this any more than that."

The suspension followed the release of previously undisclosed documents from New York state's Attorney General office, which investigated the claims against the ex-governor. Nearly a dozen women have publicly alleged that Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August, either sexually harassed them or made them feel uncomfortable.

The newly-released documents, including text messages and transcripts of an interview between the anchor and state investigators, suggested Chris Cuomo worked closely with aides to his brother to protect him.

In one text message sent in March, Melissa DeRosa, who was among the former governor's closest confidants, asked Chris Cuomo to "check with his sources" at media outlets about any additional women who might be talking to journalists or considering coming forward with claims against the governor.

Cuomo responded to DeRosa over text that he would do so, the documents show, and confirmed to her in a subsequent message that after following up with his sources, "no one has heard that yet."

In another text message, Chris Cuomo texted DeRosa that he had received "a lead on the wedding girl," in an apparent reference to a woman who had publicly alleged that the former governor touched her inappropriately during a wedding they were photographed at together.

The released of the documents, which CNN said it had not previously seen, led directly to Cuomo's suspension. A network spokesman said they raised "serious questions."

"When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother's staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly," the spokesperson said. "But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second ... However, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother's efforts than we previously knew."

Some of Cuomo's colleagues, including on-air personalities, have pledged support for the embattled anchor, while others have said they stand with CNN's decision to put him on leave.

"I'm grateful for your friendship and your love. I think that you are fantastic. One of the kindest people I know on this planet," anchor Don Lemon told Cuomo during a hand-off between their two shows on the air Monday after CNN had announced it would review Cuomo's conduct but before the suspension was given.

"For those asking: [Cuomo] is my friend. I would *never* walk away from a friend - in good times or bad," leading CNN political reporter Chris Cillizza said in a tweet Tuesday after the suspension. "I support the [CNN] decision. And I will also be there if Chris needs me. That's what friends do."