How dual loyalties created an ethics problem for Chris Cuomo and CNN

An editorial on on the firing of CNN’s Chris Cuomo actually quotes from the textbook I’m using in the journalism class that met for the last time today.
This editorial was actually published during our last class, so I regret I couldn’t assign it as a final discussion text.
It makes a really fitting take-home message to wrap up the course.
CNN Journalist Chris Cuomo admitted that he could not fairly cover news stories about the scandal that would eventually take down his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo.
Journalist Cuomo was fired; but not for having or sharing an opinion about his brother’s political career. He got fired because he compromised CNN by using his connections as a high-profile reporter to research the background of women who accused his brother of sexual misconduct.

A journalist’s role is to serve the public interest. But CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, by helping his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a scandal, put personal interests above the public’s.


Was it unrealistic to expect the Cuomo brothers not to confer in times of crisis? Some news consumers think so, as reader comments on a Nov. 30 New York Times story contended: “One of the biggest draws to CNN is Chris Cuomo & his personalized brotherly banter & friendship with Don Lemon. He reflects what’s right in America. Family & Loyalty.”

Those readers are right that it is a question of loyalty. But they are answering the question differently than many journalists would.

Kovach and Rosenstiel have written that journalists’ “first loyalty is to citizens,” and in their book The Elements of Journalism call it an “implied covenant” with the audience.

As columnist Margaret Sullivan argued in the Washington Post, “You don’t abuse your position in journalism — whether at a weekly newspaper or a major network — for personal or familial gain.”

Conflicts of interest violate that covenant and undermine public confidence in media independence. Some conflicts of interest are such a problem that no amount of disclosure or disclaimers can cure them. CNN has apparently concluded that Chris Cuomo’s is one of them. —The Conversation

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