Entertainment

Zucker fires back at Cuomo: CNN chief tells staff that network will investigate sex misconduct claim


CNN‘s president Jeff Zucker has told staff at the network that they will continue investigating fired anchor Chris Cuomo’s behavior after a woman at another network accused him of historic sexual misconduct – and the 51-year-old quit his radio show.

Zucker on Monday told staff the allegations of sexual misconduct would be thoroughly investigated, after Cuomo implied that his boss already knew much of the detail that led to his professional downfall. 

‘Chris had been much more deeply involved than we had ever known, and than he’d ever told us,’ Zucker told employees, according to The Washington Post, citing the results of a three-day review by a law firm CNN hired to investigate.

Zucker said he felt betrayed, telling staff ‘he gave me his word that there was no involvement’ beyond advice and support to his brother. 

‘And in the weeks and months that followed, he gave repeated, similar assurances not just to me but to other key members of our management team here.’

Zucker continued: ‘I fully understand that this has been a very unfortunate distraction for this organization, and I totally get it. 

Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, told staff on Monday that allegations of sexual misconduct made against Chris Cuomo last week would be fully investigated

‘At the same time, as I have said many times, the world is relying on us, and we do need to move forward.’ 

Cuomo’s 9pm slot is being filled by Michael Smerconish, with no word as to who will replace the star permanently, and calls for the prized slot to be handed to a female broadcaster. 

‘We’ve made absolutely no programming decisions for that hour beyond this week,’ Zucker said. 

‘We’ll begin to think about that soon, I assure you.’  

Cuomo was fired on Saturday after it emerged that he had provided more substantial help to the team working for his embattled brother, Governor Andrew Cuomo, than he had previously admitted. Andrew, 63, resigned as governor of New York in August.

CNN on Saturday said that Cuomo was being fired due to his undisclosed actions in support of his brother, in breach of journalistic ethics.

They also said that ‘additional information’ contributed to the decision – which is now known to be allegations of sexual misconduct made last week by a former colleague of Cuomo’s when he worked at ABC News, from 2006-13. 

Chris Cuomo says CNN President Jeff Zucker, left, knew about his involvement in his brother's defense, which CNN called 'patently false'

Chris Cuomo says CNN President Jeff Zucker, left, knew about his involvement in his brother’s defense, which CNN called ‘patently false’

Chris Cuomo on Monday afternoon announced that he was ending his SiriusXM radio show

Chris Cuomo on Monday afternoon announced that he was ending his SiriusXM radio show

Cuomo says Zucker knew about the cooperation, which the network called ‘patently false.’ 

CNN is scheduled to host a town hall meeting with employees on Tuesday.

Cuomo said on Monday afternoon that he is ending his SiriusXM radio show.

He said he plans to ‘take a step back and focus on what comes next.’

‘The way my time ended at CNN was hard,’ he wrote, adding that his suspension and termination was ‘extraordinarily difficult’ for his family.  

Cuomo is said to be considering legal action against CNN. 

He has now hired lawyers and is preparing to file a suit against CNN if it does not honor the remainder of the four year contract he signed last year, under which he receives $6 million a year, according to the New York Post.

But unnamed sources told the Post that the network has ‘no intention of paying Cuomo a penny,’ noting that ‘if he gets a settlement, there would be an uproar.’  

The network itself could be on the hook for ‘seven figure’ payments in potential lawsuits unless it can prove it didn’t know about recently surfaced sexual harassment claims. 

California attorney Benjamin Eghbali told Fox News that Cuomo will be held to a similar standard as disgraced Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein if people decide to sue CNN alleging a cover-up.

CNN could be on the hook for millions of dollars if plaintiffs can prove that the network covered up harassment claims against star host Chris Cuomo, who was fired Saturday

CNN could be on the hook for millions of dollars if plaintiffs can prove that the network covered up harassment claims against star host Chris Cuomo, who was fired Saturday

Cuomo was fired after revelations that he helped coordinate the media response to sexual harassment allegations against his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right

Cuomo was fired after revelations that he helped coordinate the media response to sexual harassment allegations against his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right

‘They’re going to try to push the blame completely on Chris Cuomo, and say they had no knowledge,’ Eghbali said of CNN.

‘So, the plaintiff’s job is going to be to show that there was some sort of knowledge on CNN’s side and they looked the other way … If they cannot prove that burden, then they will not be able to hold CNN responsible.’ 

On Wednesday, prominent attorney Debra S. Katz told CNN about a client with an allegation of sexual harassment against Cuomo, according to the New York Times

The allegation is ‘unrelated to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo matter,’ Katz said in a statement.

Meanwhile, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter has hinted that Cuomo’s firing may be tied to the allegation.

Brian Stelter on Sunday reported how CNN came to fire Chris Cuomo, suggesting the sexual harassment allegations played a part in his dismissal

Brian Stelter on Sunday reported how CNN came to fire Chris Cuomo, suggesting the sexual harassment allegations played a part in his dismissal

‘Reporters at The New York Times and other outlets have pursued tips about Cuomo in the past, and the info about (Cuomo accuser’s lawyer) Debra Katz’s client was first reported by the NYT late Saturday,’ Stelter said on his show Sunday morning.

‘Katz did not respond to my requests for comment on Sunday. A spokesperson for Cuomo said, ‘these apparently anonymous allegations are not true.”

In his evening newsletter, Stelter explained the pressure the allegations heaped on their star anchor.

‘This was a case of death-by-a-thousand-cuts,’ he said.

Cuomo was also accused of sexually harassing a female coworker, who was his superior at the time, at a party in 2005. 

In an op-ed for the Times in September, producer Shelley Ross wrote that Cuomo walked up to her, hugged her and firmly grasped her buttocks as her husband sat behind her.

‘I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,’ he said, according to Ross.

Karen Agnifilo, a lawyer and former chief assistant district attorney in Manhattan, told Fox News that Cuomo is likely to use the same defense as his brother.

‘I think [Gov. Cuomo’s] brother should do the Cuomo playbook: ‘We hugged, we kissed, we’re affectionate. It’s how we were raised,” Agnifilo said, adding that any case would have to proceed in public court.

California attorney Benjamin Eghbali says CNN is likely to 'push the blame completely on Chris Cuomo, and say they had no knowledge'

California attorney Benjamin Eghbali says CNN is likely to ‘push the blame completely on Chris Cuomo, and say they had no knowledge’

‘CNN will have to turn over things like emails and employee files and other discovery-related documents. And then people will have to sit for depositions and interrogatories, and depending on what comes out in all that will depend on whether they had knowledge or didn’t have knowledge,’ Agnifilo said. 

‘All that stuff comes out in the course of civil litigation, or they settle and it never comes out.’

CNN’s statement cited only Cuomo’s ‘conduct with his brother’s defense’ in its decision to terminate the anchor.

A spokesman for Cuomo told the Wall Street Journal Sunday: ‘Mr. Cuomo has the highest level of admiration and respect for Mr. Zucker.

‘They were widely known to be extremely close and in regular contact, including about the details of Mr. Cuomo’s support for his brother.’

CNN disagreed with their former star’s characterization of events.

‘He has made a number of accusations that are patently false,’ the network said in a statement. ‘This reinforces why he was terminated for violating our standards and practices, as well as his lack of candor.’

Zucker hired Cuomo from ABC News in 2013. He demonstrated considerable compassion for Cuomo during the summer, when the saga with his brother Andrew unfolded

Zucker hired Cuomo from ABC News in 2013. He demonstrated considerable compassion for Cuomo during the summer, when the saga with his brother Andrew unfolded

In an announcement released Saturday afternoon, the network revealed that more information had come to light during its internal investigation into the anchor - which is still ongoing

In an announcement released Saturday afternoon, the network revealed that more information had come to light during its internal investigation into the anchor – which is still ongoing

Earlier this year, Cuomo told CNN viewers and executives that he had indeed assisted his brother’s team, but that his involvement had been minimal.

But on Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James released text messages between Cuomo and his brother’s staff showing that he was deeply involved in combatting the allegations and provided help in strategy and communications.

‘Chris Cuomo was suspended earlier this week pending further evaluation of new information that came to light about his involvement with his brother’s defense,’ the network said in a statement.

The announcement further revealed that an outside law firm was enlisted by the network to aid in their investigation into how exactly their star anchor aided his brother, Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, try to fight off a sexual harassment scandal this year.

Former prosecutor and attorney Karen Agnifilo said: 'All that stuff comes out in the course of civil litigation, or they settle and it never comes out'

Former prosecutor and attorney Karen Agnifilo said: ‘All that stuff comes out in the course of civil litigation, or they settle and it never comes out’

‘We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately. While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.’

After amassing a trove of texts and documents pointing to a serious breach of network standards by the journalist, CNN notified Cuomo of his termination Saturday, the network’s statement revealed.

Cuomo, 51, acknowledged his axing the same day, expressing regret for his part of the scandal, but still asserting that he was only helping his brother, who was forced to resign in August to avoid impeachment over the allegations.

‘This is not how I want my time at CNN to end,’ the veteran TV journalist wrote in a post published to social media.

‘But I have already told you why and how I helped my brother.’

Cuomo joined CNN as a field anchor in February 2013 following stints at ABC and Fox News. After rising through the ranks, he was tapped in March 2018 to host Cuomo Prime Time.

According to some estimates, Cuomo had an annual salary of $6 million.

 

On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James released texts between Cuomo and his brother's staff, showing that he was deeply involved in combatting the allegations

On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James released texts between Cuomo and his brother’s staff, showing that he was deeply involved in combatting the allegations

His 9pm show, Cuomo Prime Time, was CNN’s highest rated broadcast. It drew an average of 774,000 viewers during November, when it ranked No. 25 among all cable TV news programs – right behind Anderson Cooper’s show.

However, the network saw a 19 percent bump after Cuomo was suspended Tuesday and Cooper filled in. The network has not indicated who will be his permanent replacement.

Zucker, 56, hired Cuomo from ABC News in 2013 in one of his first moves when he took over CNN, and demonstrated considerable compassion for Cuomo during the summer, when the saga unfolded.

Zucker had promoted Cuomo to prime time in 2018, letting him have the prized 9pm hour, and setting him against the influential Rachel Maddow at MSNBC and Sean Hannity at Fox News.

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in August after the state Attorney General released a report detailing sexual harassment allegations from 11 different women

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in August after the state Attorney General released a report detailing sexual harassment allegations from 11 different women

In 2019, Zucker was full of praise for his star, telling The Hollywood Reporter that Cuomo was ‘the perfect cable news anchor.’

When The Washington Post reported in May that the news anchor had been advising his brother on strategy, in a breach of journalistic protocol, Zucker defended him and said that he was in a unique and very difficult position.

‘Chris has not been involved in CNN’s extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo — on air or behind the scenes,’ the network said in a statement.

‘In part because, as he has said on his show, he could never be objective. But also because he often serves as a sounding board for his brother.

‘However, it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges.

‘He will not participate in such conversations going forward.’

The network said Cuomo would not be disciplined at the time. 

But Zucker has now ran out of patience with his former star. 

Andrew Cuomo resigned from his job as governor in August after AG James released a report detailing sexual harassment accusations from 11 different women. 



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