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CNN faces calls to enlist outside firm to probe Cuomo scandal, network mum on who will conduct review

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CNN is under pressure to enlist an outside, white-shoe law firm to investigate the scandal surrounding suspended anchor Chris Cuomo, but it is unclear if the liberal network will.  

Bombshell documents released late last month by New York investigators showing Cuomo’s intense efforts to protect now-ousted Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid sexual misconduct allegations have resulted in CNN suspending the “Cuomo Prime Time” namesake. 

The scandal-plagued, liberal network has said Cuomo is suspended “indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” but has not shed any light on who exactly will be investigating. 

“It goes beyond the pale to think that an internal probe here would be appropriate and satisfy an ethical response. Who would trust that? The New York State Attorney General’s Investigation speaks for itself. Chris Cuomo’s actions can’t be papered-over by a CNN probe,” a CNN insider told Fox News Digital. 

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CNN suspended Chris Cuomo "indefinitely, pending further evaluation" after newly released documents shed new light on his role in former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sexual misconduct scandal.

CNN suspended Chris Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation” after newly released documents shed new light on his role in former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sexual misconduct scandal.
(CNN)

CNN did not respond when asked if an outside firm would be hired. Parent company WarnerMedia/AT&T didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, either. 

Fox News Digital also emailed everyone on AT&T’s board of directors with the same question but didn’t receive any responses. 

“CNN needs to commission an outside investigation like they did with their Tailwind debacle if there is to be any credibility,” a longtime media executive told Fox News Digital, referring to the infamous 1998 retraction of a CNN story that falsely claimed the U.S. military used nerve gas in a mission to kill American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War.

CNN enlisted an independent investigation to look into the report, and a staggering retraction was issued once the outside probe concluded CNN’s report could not be supported. But CNN has changed significantly since 1998, and then-president Tom Johnson is no longer with the company. WarnerMedia News and Sports chairman Jeff Zucker now oversees the network.  

“Jeff Zucker is hopelessly compromised in how he’s covered up for Cuomo’s buffoonery, lies and ethical lapses over the last two years. And this outside investigation should be focusing on Jeff just as much as it does Chris,” the media executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. 

Despite calls for an outside probe from media industry professionals, UltraViolet, prominent women’s group, doesn’t think the “Cuomo Prime Time” namesake deserves the attention.

“CNN doesn’t need an outside counsel to know that Chris Cuomo should never be put on the air again. He used his position of power to help orchestrate an attack on victims of sexual abuse. CNN should fire Chris Cuomo today,” UltraViolet campaign director Elisa Batista told Fox News Digital.

Plenty of industry experts simply don’t think an internal probe is adequate, but Poynter Institute senior media writer Tom Jones feels an internal investigation can be effective in this case because of the overwhelming amount of public evidence. 

“Thanks to the New York Attorney General’s documents, it looks as if CNN has the information it needs to determine whether Chris Cuomo crossed the line,” Jones told Fox News Digital. 

A collection of previously confidential documents revealed CNN's Chris Cuomo was more involved with his big brother’s sexual misconduct scandal than previously known. 

A collection of previously confidential documents revealed CNN’s Chris Cuomo was more involved with his big brother’s sexual misconduct scandal than previously known. 
(CNN  |  istock)

DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall disagrees and said CNN should “absolutely” bring in an independent team to assess the Cuomo situation. 

“It was the CNN brass itself that took the Cuomo situation too lightly in the first place. That lack of action and transparency is largely responsible for the credibility crisis now faced by CNN,” McCall told Fox News Digital. “Thus, the CNN hierarchy can hardly be counted on to do the fair and comprehensive investigation now needed. CNN needs an independent look at this as a first step to restoring credibility with all external publics.”

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McCall feels an internal probe would “be viewed with suspicion by viewers” regardless of the findings and would only further damage the network’s dwindling credibility. 

“CNN has struggled with how to manage Chris Cuomo for many months now, even going back to when Chris and Governor Cuomo were doing their regular PR and comedy routines during the early days of COVID,” he said. “CNN and its viewers need closure on this in a way that can stand public and professional scrutiny.”

Other news organizations dealing with internal issues have brought in outside investigators to make sure the appropriate people are held accountable. Transcripts of Cuomo’s interview with state investigators indicated the CNN star would reach out to media sources to find out about his brother’s accusers before they came forward publicly. Cuomo’s actions also appeared to include opposition research on his brother’s accusers during an era when the “Believe Women” mantra was at the forefront of the #MeToo movement. 

CNN’s Chris Cuomo used his media-industry connections to snoop around the media industry to find out the progress of Ronan Farrow’s reporting about his brother. 

CNN’s Chris Cuomo used his media-industry connections to snoop around the media industry to find out the progress of Ronan Farrow’s reporting about his brother. 
(Getty Images)

Text messages also indicated Cuomo snooped on fellow journalists who were thought to be working on stories that would make his brother look bad, and relayed the information to governor’s aides.  

Another CNN insider feels Cuomo’s future is tied to whether or not he lied to Zucker about his involvement behind the scenes. Other industry insiders feel Cuomo’s fate is ultimately in the hands of high-powered Discovery executives John Malone and David Zaslav, as Discovery is set to merge with WarnerMedia in 2022. 

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Zaslav, who is expected to run the proposed, combined company, and Malone did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Discovery did not immediately respond when asked if an outside investigator should be hired by CNN prior to the merger’s completion. 

Meanwhile, many critics feel Cuomo’s April 2020 staged exit from COVID quarantine is an even more serious breach of journalism ethics than his role in his brother’s scandal. The “Cuomo Prime Time” host famously emerged from his basement, telling viewers he had been waiting for this moment “literally for weeks” as he battled coronavirus. However, days before then, he was spotted outside his home and even got into an altercation with a bicyclist who claimed the CNN anchor was violating quarantine guidelines being enforced by his brother. 

Staging news used to have consequences – ABC News even reprimanded Cokie Roberts in 1994 for simply wearing a coat to pretend she was outside for a live shot conducted indoors – but Cuomo has gotten a pass for the quarantine debacle. NBC News famously suspended Brian Williams before demoting him to MSNBC for lying on late-night talk shows with no editorial oversight, whereas Cuomo misled viewers about his quarantine on CNN platforms. 

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Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson thinks WarnerMedia has no choice in the matter if it wants to maintain credibility. 

“CNN already has shown itself to be conflicted and compromised when addressing Chris Cuomo’s actions towards his brother, the former Governor. Since this is a CNN management problem in addition to a Chris Cuomo problem, only an outside, independent investigation and review can unravel the management failures,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital. 

Whether or not Chris Cuomo lied to CNN boss Jeff Zucker will play a key role in determining his fate, according to a CNN insider. However, it’s unclear who will investigate the situation. (Getty Images)

Whether or not Chris Cuomo lied to CNN boss Jeff Zucker will play a key role in determining his fate, according to a CNN insider. However, it’s unclear who will investigate the situation. (Getty Images)

While most reputable news organizations have enlisted outside law firms to investigate scandals, some media executives have refused. 

NBC News came under fire at the height of the #MeToo movement for not allowing outside counsel to investigate who knew about Matt Lauer’s sexual wrongdoings. Instead, NBC News allowed General Counsel Kim Harris to conduct the review, and she eventually declared that NBC management was completely oblivious to Lauer’s lewd behavior. The results of the NBC review were mocked by media watchdogs and NBC employees alike, while former NBC News star Ann Curry declared she did not participate despite expressing publicly to the Washington Post that she had complained to senior NBC News executives about Lauer’s behavior.

The decision not to enlist an outside firm is widely considered a black mark on then-NBC News chairman Andy Lack’s legacy. He left the company in 2020. 

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CNN’s initial statement declared: “The New York Attorney General’s office released transcripts and exhibits Monday that shed new light on Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s defense. The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise 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. 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. As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report. 

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