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CNN fires Chris Cuomo after investigation

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

The headline is pretty straightforward. CNN fired its star primetime anchor, Chris Cuomo, tonight. How CNN got there - a bit more complex. Chris Cuomo was suspended on Tuesday after New York Attorney General Letitia James released new information about the anchor's involvement in helping his brother, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, push back against allegations of sexual harassment against him. Governor Cuomo eventually resigned. Now to anchor Cuomo. In a statement today, CNN announced it had terminated Chris Cuomo, effective immediately. Joining us to discuss this is Erik Wemple. He's media critic for The Washington Post. Erik, thanks for joining us.

ERIK WEMPLE: Thanks for having me.

FOLKENFLIK: Chris Cuomo's involvement in his brother's efforts to push back against the allegations against the governor had been known for some time. No fresh details are public tonight. But you've been writing for months that what we already knew that Chris Cuomo did appeared to be a grave breach of ethics. Why?

WEMPLE: I did because - basically, because Chris Cuomo - I don't think anybody would have faulted him or raised questions about his suitability for the job if he had merely been talking to his brother about his political career. That would not have been such a problem. But what Chris Cuomo did in this situation was he joined a political pushback effort run by Cuomo's aides, and that's a major crossing of the line for a journalist into political advocacy.

FOLKENFLIK: Why did CNN wait so long to make this decision?

WEMPLE: That has never been answered, as far as I can see. They haven't said why they didn't fully investigate Chris Cuomo in May when the Post reported that he had been participating in these strategy discussions with Cuomo aides. Nor did they give any explanation in August, when the attorney general's report came out. So there've been three sort of key moments in this - May, when The Post did its thing, August, when the attorney general released this report and then just this past week, when the attorney general released more documents.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, as you suggest, Chris Cuomo's original defense was saying, look. I've got to protect and fight for my brother. Everyone expected him to do that. The network's public acceptance of that seems problematic at the time, damaged as we move forward. What does it say about CNN that it sort of was very grudging to take a real hard look under the rock, see what Chris Cuomo's behavior was behind the scenes and what values it suggests are driving those decisions?

WEMPLE: I think ratings. I mean, obviously, when Chris Cuomo had Andrew Cuomo on the air, there were a lot of ratings that they reaped during that time. Also, you know, these cable news networks invest lots of money - millions of dollars in salary and millions of dollars in promotions to prop up their personality and to really promote their star value. These are personalities. These aren't just anchors. And a lot of work goes in that. Once they've sunk those costs, once they sunk that investment into, you know, one of these anchors, they are very reluctant to let go.

FOLKENFLIK: We've been listening to Erik Wemple, the media critic for The Washington Post and a tough critic of CNN on the question of the handling of Chris Cuomo. He's being replaced temporarily by Michael Smerconish. Thanks so much, Erik.

WEMPLE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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