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CNN fires Chris Cuomo for involvement in his brother's sexual misconduct allegations


CNN has fired anchor and primetime star Chris Cuomo. The announcement last night was short and not all that sweet. The network said new revelations showed serious lapses by Cuomo in seeking to defend his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned over sexual harassment allegations. And as NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has found, the firing had been a long time coming. David joins us now. Good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's start with last night's announcement. What did CNN say specifically?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, CNN had suspended Chris Cuomo after the release of documents by New York state Attorney General Letitia James into the investigation into his brother, the former governor of New York, of course, Andrew Cuomo, and accusations of sexual harassment against him. Those documents showed that Cuomo had actively, aerobically taken part in strategizing for the governor. They said Cuomo was suspended earlier this week, pending further evaluation of new information that came to light about his involvement with his brother's defense. They said that they retained a respected law firm to conduct a review, something they hadn't previously acknowledged publicly, and terminated him immediately. They never spelled out what those new transgressions were that came to light.

RASCOE: And so remind us what we already knew about Chris Cuomo's attempts to help his brother.

FOLKENFLIK: So look. I would've given you a slightly different answer early last night. I would've told you that we already knew that he had basically performed as a sounding board for his governor, which - he had acknowledged that he had done more than that - and that the new documents from Letitia James showed that he had been doing, essentially, opposition research on reporters going after then-Governor Cuomo, on women making accusations, arguing for stronger strategies to condemn his critics as part of some sort of woke, cancel culture mob.

But what we also learned last night from Deb Katz, a notable workplace lawyer based in Washington, D.C., is that she informed, on Wednesday, CNN that she had a client who was accusing Chris Cuomo of sexual harassment himself - sexual misconduct from an earlier job in journalism, what appears to be ABC News and that it appears on the same day CNN hired a notable outside law firm to do a review. So it seems there's a confluence of things that may have affected CNN to act. What CNN said to me last night about that very question around midnight was that they had found new information about what Chris Cuomo had done for his governor - brother, then the governor, but that this new information meant there was no reason to delay its decision to terminate Chris Cuomo.

RASCOE: And so that kind of goes to the long time coming part. This is not the first chance that CNN has had to review Chris Cuomo's conduct, right?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, no. I mean, it's almost like the dance of the seven veils in some ways. There were a number of points at which Cuomo acknowledged that he had made mistakes, and then more information would come to light from other sources. And CNN and Chris Cuomo had to acknowledge that, yes, that was true, too. Cuomo has basically said he acted as a brother. Nothing he did - you know, he shouldn't have been part of talking about the governor's problems with the governor's political aides. But beyond that, he really hasn't apologized and - beyond, of course, to deny that he's ever committed any kind of sexual harassment himself. So what you're seeing here is that CNN had chances to cut this off at the pass. It seemed as though the network never really wanted to take a close look. And once it did, it found things it couldn't look away from.

RASCOE: So how did Chris Cuomo respond to this announcement that he's been fired?

FOLKENFLIK: He said he didn't - this wasn't the way that he had hoped to leave CNN but that, you know, he believes in his brother. He acted as a brother - and that, you know, he basically maintains his earlier position. What it looks like from CNN is that it acted not on the journalistic principle that it's invoking now but hoping, opportunistically, to shy away from the close scrutiny that needed to occur of the actions by one of its very top stars in primetime.

RASCOE: OK, we'll leave it there. That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.