• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Thoughts On Chris Cuomo

It’s a useful maxim that says (in a tone of admonishment, invariably) that a reporter should never become the subject of the story.

He should, rather, strive with all his might for impartiality and distance, and work to brand himself with the mark of separation from which that of partisanship is removed. He should remain forever detached from the news item on which he’s paid to comment, and serve, merely, as the unbiased vessel through it is conveyed.

He should, for the sake his own legitimacy, and that of the craft of which he fancies himself a practitioner, remain personally unaffiliated to the information about which his audience is curious to hear. He should maintain, at all times, though not without great effort, a stoic mien, a cool countenance, and a dispassionate manner from which every stain of prejudice has been meticulously cleansed. He should dress himself, every evening before going on air, or every morning prior to his sunrise broadcast, in the garb of a disinterested spectator, an impenetrable robe at which neither doubt nor aspersion can be easily cast—and from which, more importantly, his own bias can’t readily leak.

Unfortunately, this maxim is more often dismissed than embraced. In no case is this truer than in that of Chris Cuomo, the storied, flagship name to whom a foundering cable network has attached its sinking hopes. Cuomo, scion of New York’s oldest and most powerful family, is one such reporter upon whom this useful maxim appears to have left no impression. He seems, rather, quite determined to flout its quiet logic and stern wisdom at every turn. Over the course of the past year, a fraught time in world history during which there was never a paucity of news to report, he strained to make himself the story on multiple occasions.

Near the outset of the pandemic, he contracted the Wuhan variant of the dread COVID-19. A small drama was built around the hair-raising plot of his unenviable infection, his brave convalescence, and his glorious re-entry into the light of the world. With the intrepidity of a soldier first to land on a foreign shore, we watched as he marched down the stairs of his commodious basement, from which he promised, unabated, to continue broadcasting his show. Then, sometime later, the cameras were fixed on him as he emerged from that ample bunker in which he was so uncomfortably confined.

Sprung, at last, from the subterranean vault in which he was for two weeks imprisoned, he kissed his family, thanked his doctors, and looked, side-eye, over his shoulder to ensure that the camera hadn’t stopped rolling.

It appears, however, that during this trying time, Cuomo was less than faithful to the quarantine mandate to which everyone—irrespective of his celebrity or her wealth—was told, in no uncertain terms, to adhere. He visited his second property in New York, on which construction was still ongoing. A curious bicyclist had the temerity to approach the sprawling estate, aroused, surely, by a desire to know the identity of the spectacular neighbor to whom it might belong. The bicyclist soon realized the owner to be none other than Chris Cuomo, the hometown anchor for whom his polished East Hampton community held great affection.

The bicyclist, conscious of the mandate to which all were allegedly subject, asked Cuomo how it came to be that he, and he alone, should be granted permission openly to contravene the rule? By what means, he inquired, did this very public figure come to possess so liberating an exemption, and free himself of a mandate by which everyone else was bound? Cuomo, impatient of the unsolicited inquiry, responded in a rage. With a torrent of epithets, he ridiculed and threatened the biker, who promptly scurried off and filed a police report. His rationale for doing so is one against which no peaceable soul can offer an objection: he dislikes bullies. Fair enough. I detest them as well, but so long as Cuomo, the reporter, remained the story, I don’t think he much cared about being so named.

Now, over a year later, he’s at the heart of another story. Verily, he seems incapable of evading them, quite like an unteachable moth in pursuit of a flame. It’s come to the public’s notice that, during the controversy in which his infamous older brother, Andrew Cuomo, was for months embroiled, Chris was involved in strategizing the beleaguered Governor’s response. Abandoning any pretext to objectivity, and imperiling the (already damaged) credibility of the network for which he works, Chris thought it prudent to insert himself into the scandal. He thought it expedient, as a journalist purportedly unswayed by the tides of party, to manipulate a public official’s message.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spotless reputation was suddenly tarnished by the allegations of several women. They accused him, with the occasional accompaniment of photographic evidence, of sexual improprieties upon which I’d rather not expound. Most, if not all of the allegations surpassed the low threshold of being, at the very least, believable, and Governor Cuomo’s guilt appeared little in doubt. It should be noted that, despite our recent inattention to this story, that fact hasn’t much changed. The difference now is that, thanks to the reporting of the Washington Post, the Governor’s defense of his actions was apparently influenced by the CNN host. Chris advised his older brother to turn the tables and accuse his accusers of participating in that nasty game of “cancel culture”, by which so many honest politicians have been felled.

It’s just another example of Cuomo’s terrible penchant for being, not the reporter, but the story. It’s yet another case by which his lack of professionalism is exposed, and his professions of neutrality discredited. It shows, once again, his complete non-adherence to that useful maxim with which this humble essay began—that which advises a reporter never to become the subject of a story, certainly not to do so, as it pertains to Cuomo, time and time again.

Given his inability to avoid transgressing this well-grounded journalistic law, this solemn mandate to which every anchor should try his very best to remain committed, one must ask why his employer, CNN, retains his lackluster services, and suffers through his mounting scandals? How is it that it’s not yet severed its relationship with him?

Perhaps, it’ll respond, he’s an eminently capable lawyer, a man possessed of the type of legal mind to which only Cicero, Blackstone, Brandies, Grotius, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. have attained. Such a mind would be invaluable on the CNN staff. Shall we explore this idea?

The institution from which Cuomo obtained his Juris Doctorate, Fordham University, isn’t undeserving of the high rank to which its proud alumni are quick to make reference, and about which its enthusiastic recruitment officers are eager to speak. It is, in every way, a healthy and an esteemed school, albeit one located in the heart of an ailing city. It’s known to prepare its graduates for the complexities and rigors of a legal career in that most litigious of all states, New York, in which most of them, upon graduation and passing the bar, go on, with every hope of success, to practice.

We must assume, given Fordham’s very high reputation for academic success, that Chris Cuomo left its halls of learning with a vast store of knowledge. He doubtless walked away from its classrooms with a breadth of wisdom by which his natural intelligence was enriched, and boundless potential enlarged. At the very least, we might’ve assumed him to have attained a basic competency in matters pertaining to the law, the field of study in which, thanks to Fordham’s erudite faculty and guidance, he was so impressively credentialed.

If not verbatim, we might expect him still—though many years displaced from the experience of his graduate school days—to be able to articulate something as fundamental as, say, the Bill of Rights, that strong limb first to branch from the trunk of our Constitutional body. One would think a familiarity with the language of the First Amendment, that single, sturdy pillar upon which the civil society of our very republic is built, a requirement well within the range of a well-educated, prominent attorney’s grasp.

Unfortunately, to the lasting shame of the renowned college from which he took his degree, and to the deep embarrassment of those with whom he shares the venerable title, esquire, Cuomo proved himself utterly unacquainted with the Constitution’s First Amendment. He demonstrated an ignorance of the Constitution’s text at which even the elementary scholar—perhaps trained only in the lightsome melodies of “Schoolhouse Rock!”—would turn and blush.

In what’s become an infamous and, frankly, discreditable segment on which he was featured, Cuomo spoke out in defense of the occasionally unruly, and often violent protests by which last summer was plagued. Suddenly an apologist for violence in towns and cities from which, to the great misfortune of local residents, the police was pulled, and a supporter of the types of odious acts by which, inevitably, their absence is filled, Cuomo sought to legitimize the protestors’ savagery. He urged his listeners to consider not the brutality for which they were so clearly responsible, but the less obvious injustices by which their righteous outbursts were provoked.

He concluded his muddled line of reasoning with the following, imperishable quote. In a tone of rhetorical challenge, posing a question to which, owing, I’m sure, to its crippling brilliance, he expected no response, he implored his audience and his naysayers to show him exactly, “Where it says protestors are supposed to be polite and peaceful?”

Polite, they need not be. Of course, should they be even slightly inclined toward civility and decorum, I would encourage as polite an approach, and as tranquil a manner, as one can muster (the battle is more often won with honey than with vinegar). Such is the stamp, I think, of a mature, confident, and dignified society, a people unafraid of its government, and assured of itself. But this level of refinement is, sadly, unrequired of a people who often fail to meet a standard far below that description. And so, it is permissible to be impolite, if strongly discouraged.

As for the requirement to be peaceful—that’s a stipulation less amenable to taste. In fact, it’s a rule, quite explicitly stated in the text of the First Amendment, to which every American, irrespective of the gravity of his complaint, and the urgency of its redress, is required to adhere. Congress, it says, “Shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. In short, to answer Cuomo’s question, the Constitution—that sacred document to which he devoted three years of post-graduate study—is the place containing that bothersome requirement of peace.

How, I ask, can we possibly confer the title of “good lawyer” on a man shamelessly unfamiliar with the language of the Constitution? I don’t think, good stewards of the Constitution that we are, we reasonably can.

If he falls somewhat short of being a “good lawyer”, might he not compensate with being a good journalist? It is, after all, the profession toward which he turned his gaze after the completion of his unexalted legal career, and for which he’s now more widely famous.

I’ll admit, I’m not the target audience to whom he spends his evenings speaking, but, over the course of the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to acquaint myself with glimmers of his work. On the whole, it’s an unimpressive body. Most memorably, on his putatively serious and unbiased show, he interviewed his older brother (to whom, we’ve since learned, he’s not been hesitant to offer public relations advice). Before Governor Andrew Cuomo was defending himself against weekly allegations of sexual misconduct, however, he was overseeing New York’s response to the global pandemic—a response for which the word “inept” would be far too charitable a term.

Perhaps with the inglorious exceptions of New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy, and the Governess of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, Andrew Cuomo presided over one of the nation’s worst responses to the pandemic. He offered no discouragement to people hoping to visit the sapid streets of New York City’s Chinatown and refused to refer to the disease by its actual name (he opted, time and again, for a supposedly less-offensive alternative, the “European” virus). Along with his esteemed colleague, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, he dallied in closing and sanitizing the nation’s most populous subway network, and instituted economically devastating regulations on businesses small and large. With the misguided aim of preserving hospital space, he mandated that all nursing and long-term care facilities accept, at the risk of penalty and the suspension of funding, COVID-positive patients. This proved a fatal edict with which the facilities, with little power resist the gubernatorial decree, were forced to comply.

In a word, the elderly population in New York was decimated. There is no other way to state it. Contagious individuals were brought into the pristine, yet vulnerable facilities, through which their toxic droplets quickly spread. Those with the gravest co-morbidities were first to fall ill, followed by those who were, simply because of their advanced age, at heightened risk. Mind you, the proclivity of the disease to afflict the elderly was, even at this early stage, well-documented and empirically-known. Other states, less allergic to evidence, crafted their agendas on this knowledge, and their superior outcomes speak for themselves. Despite this, Governor Cuomo persisted with his fatal edict from March until May, a two-month period during which, unnecessarily, countless died.

I say “countless” only because the true number of the dead was (and still is) concealed. Under Governor Cuomo’s insistence, public health officials working for the state of New York were told to obscure, omit, or simply fabricate the statistics. On multiple occasions, audits of the fatality records were requested and refused, and the Governor (evidently undismayed by the unthinkable number of deaths) wore his defiance as though it were badge of honor.

It was during this time that Chris Cuomo, on a nearly nightly basis, welcomed Governor Andrew Cuomo on his “news” show. At any point during their genial conversations, he might’ve pressed the elder politician to disclose the truth of what was happening in his state and, having perhaps obtained a confession to mismanagement, if not outright maladministration, pushed for the adoption of better rules. Chris Cuomo, as a reporter, might’ve been the impetus to change, the source of a corrective of which his brother’s utterly inept governance was in so desperate a need. He could’ve done that for which reporters were once applauded: he could’ve exposed obfuscation, and saved many lives.

Instead, he chose to abdicate his journalistic duty, and indulge a nonsensical, brotherly farce. He decided it worthwhile to spend his time carrying out a humorless shtick focused on the size of the Governor’s nose. While the two chuckled like school-boys about the Governor’s unnaturally large nasal orifice, their state, once one of the greatest in our Union, was on the floor bleeding. Businesses were arbitrarily shuttered, taxes remained extortionately high, hordes of people were leaving, police departments were being defunded, criminals were given early release, and Governor Cuomo was lavishing in the advanced profits of his soon-to-be-published book—all while a forgotten geriatric population was killed.

Maybe Chris Cuomo enjoyed an impeccable career as a journalist up until that point. Perhaps he’d not yet committed a single shortcoming by which his distinguished résumé could be marred. Even if that were the case, and I find it very unlikely to be, his treatment of his brother during the height of the pandemic was inexcusable, and, as such, it strips him of all the merit accumulated from his past.

With that, we must conclude that Chris Cuomo is not a particularly good journalist.

What, then, are the shining qualities by which his many deficits might be redeemed? Is he a uniquely charismatic person, the gallant type of man by whom even the most cautious are at once disarmed? It would be difficult for me to say that he is. One need only be reminded of his interaction with the slightly intoxicated man with whom, at a beer garden, he had a rather hostile exchange. It was then that Cuomo equated the innocuous term, “Fredo” with the most heinous of racial epithets. If not charismatic, is he a delightfully eloquent speaker—possessed of a tongue by which crowds are arrested, and souls moved? Does his intonation, cadence, and fullness of voice cancel out his less appealing qualities? Again, I don’t think that they do. He’s not, in my opinion, an orator of particular refinement, and none will mistake him for a Democratic Demosthenes.

We’re left, then, with the still unanswered question: Why does Chris Cuomo, deficient in legal acumen, void of journalistic integrity, unblessed by charisma, and lacking in eloquence, remain CNN’s top anchor?

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