Revealing the turmoil inside CNN following Jeff Zucker’s departure, leaked audio from a tense company meeting last month showed host Jake Tapper comparing his former colleague Chris Cuomo to a terrorist threatening to “blow the place up” through the “scorched-earth” tactics of his “high-powered lawyer.”
On Wednesday, Cuomo filed an explosive 30-page arbitration demand.
In the filing, Cuomo excoriates Tapper and Don Lemon’s allegedly “blatant breaches of journalism ethics” and demands more than $125 million from CNN.
“Untouchable in the World of Broadcast Journalism”
Arbitration papers take shots at Lemon’s coverage of disgraced actor Jussie Smollett, and CNN’s embrace of its chief political analyst Jeffrey Toobin, following a seven-month hiatus after Toobin masturbated during a Zoom call with his colleagues at The New Yorker in what the arbitration papers describe as a “sordid act of sexual harassment.”
Chris Cuomo says that he received no such consideration.
“As a direct result of CNN’s calculated efforts to tar and feather him, Cuomo is now untouchable in the world of broadcast journalism, effectively bringing his storied career to a premature end and costing him decades of earnings, exceeding $125 million in consequential damages,” his attorney Bryan J. Freedman, who previously handled Megyn Kelly’s departure from NBC, wrote.
Zucker, who had been CNN Worldwide’s president, blindsided many when he resigned earlier this year amid revelations about his consensual relationship with his second-in-command Allison Gollust.
As that story unfolded, many suspected that Zucker’s ouster had less to do with his romance with Gollust than with what the executives allegedly did to keep former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) appearing on prime time exclusively with his brother, who was then one of the network’s stars.
“During the time when Gov. Cuomo’s appearances on Cuomo’s program were creating significant value for the network, CNN, through executives Zucker and Zucker’s second-in- command, Allison Gollust […] made a concerted effort to cement and strengthen the network’s ties to Gov. Cuomo and his administration and control his media presence for CNN’s exclusive benefit,” the arbitration states. “CNN pushed Gov. Cuomo not to appear on other networks, intimating that not honoring CNN’s request might threaten Cuomo’s professional standing with the network.”
Media critics questioned the propriety of CNN’s most senior executives currying favor with a powerful public official to exclusively appear on a prime time spot with that official’s brother. Those criticisms amplified as Gov. Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal torpedoed the national acclaim he had garnered in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
As hundreds of thousands died from COVID-19, the former New York governor’s daily briefings eased the fears of millions, and his frequent appearances on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” to banter with his brother provided a ratings boon for the network. Gov. Cuomo parlayed his renown into a lucrative book deal, but the softball interviews on cable news dogged CNN after New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) released scathing reports accusing him of under-counting COVID deaths in nursing homes and predatory behavior toward 11 women.
“Willing to Overlook Major Transgressions”
Throughout the tumult, Chris Cuomo supported his brother, and CNN sources told news outlets in firing him that he crossed an ethical line.
Chris Cuomo claims the highest levels of the network had been in the loop.
“Importantly, he was always transparent with CNN about his role as a confidant to his brother, and he never reported on the allegations against Gov. Cuomo,” the arbitration states. “Until May 2021, CNN never asked Cuomo to stop or curtail his efforts to assist his brother through the sexual harassment allegations, despite being fully aware of Cuomo’s role assisting him.”
On Dec. 4 of last year, CNN fired Chris Cuomo following a report from an internal investigation by the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
“Their entire ‘investigation’ had taken just three days,” the arbitration claims. “Notably, throughout the investigation, no one had ever interviewed Cuomo or provided him any opportunity to explain what had happened, to explain that the allegations in the letter were false, to provide important context about the contents of the Attorney General’s report, including Cuomo’s communications via text message with Gov. Cuomo’s staffers, or to explain that CNN had been fully aware of Cuomo’s interactions with Gov. Cuomo all along.”
Chris Cuomo accused CNN of a “long-established pattern and practice of selectively enforcing its policies based on cynical calculations of public perception.”
“Indeed, CNN fostered a culture in which ‘exceptions’ to the network’s standards and practices were routinely sanctioned, and that culture began at the top with Zucker and Gollust,” the arbitration states. “As long as CNN’s ratings would not be hurt, Zucker and Gollust were more than willing to overlook major transgressions by CNN personalities such as Don Lemon and Jake Tapper, or even to engage in blatant misconduct themselves.”
For grist against Tapper, Cuomo reaches back to a Fox News story alleging that Tapper urged Republican candidate Sean Parnell not to run against the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Conor Lamb, for a Western Pennsylvania House seat.
“CNN allowed employees to retain their jobs for offenses much more egregious than anything CNN alleges Cuomo ever did,” the arbitration claims.
This is not the first time tension between Chris Cuomo and Tapper boiled up publicly.
In the leaked audio from February, Tapper said during the network’s meeting that Cuomo’s lawyer made it “very clear to the world that unless Jeff [Zucker] gives Chris Cuomo his money, they’re going to blow the place up.” The dollar figure floated to news outlets over a possible at the time was $18 million.
“An outside observer might say, ‘Well, looks like Chris Cuomo succeeded. He threatened. Jeff said, We don’t negotiate with terrorists, and Chris blew the place up,'” Tapper continued on the leaked tape. “How do we get past that perception that this is the bad guy winning?”
The filing quotes that remark.
CNN did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s email requesting comment.
Read the arbitration papers, below:
(Photo from Chris Cuomo’s deposition in the New York Attorney General’s investigation)
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