ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
CNN has suspended prime-time host Chris Cuomo over his role in helping his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, deal with sexual harassment charges. The network cited newly released evidence that shows Chris Cuomo was far more involved than he first let on. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has the latest on the story.
David, what did CNN say today?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, CNN pointed to a release of transcripts and emails and texts involving Chris Cuomo as part of the investigation to what Andrew Cuomo did as governor - all these allegations mounting up against him for sexual harassment. In some ways, sexual assault in one or two cases is alleged. And CNN says, look, the documents were things that they weren't privy to, and they raise, as they put it, serious questions about Chris Cuomo's activities. He had earlier conceded that he'd been involved in advising his brother - said, hey, I just took part in some advisory sounding boards of some of his top officials. This cast a very different light on what Chris Cuomo did.
SHAPIRO: Different in what way? Like, what did CNN learn in these documents that led them to suspend him?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, he really shaped some of the messaging. At a certain point, he argued that the - to the governor's top aide that they should use - frame it in terms of cancel culture, that the more liberal wings of the governor's own party, the Democratic Party, were out to show that they were willing to take down powerful men, presumably powerful white men. And additionally, you know, he was saying, look, I've got information about the woman at the wedding. There was a woman who said that at her wedding reception, she had been harassed by the then-governor. He also said that he was willing - you know, he basically was asked to check on what Ronan Farrow, the Pulitzer-winning reporter, done so much on #MeToo issues - what he was able to come up on Cuomo. And so he scouted around, did what he called research on that. You know, this adds up to what you would pay a crisis manager to do, not just simply filial love and advice and support from somebody who happens to be in the media.
SHAPIRO: And CNN and Cuomo have both been answering questions about this - pointed questions, for a long time now. Explain how this is different from what they've been saying all along.
FOLKENFLIK: Right. You know, CNN said, look, obviously, Chris Cuomo is not going to be an objective or investigative reporter about the activities or record of his older brother. That beggars belief. And you know, yes, he did engage in those earlier conversations. He acknowledged that was inappropriate. He wasn't going to do that going forward. In a sense, what the network is saying is not only is this a magnitude of seriousness different than what Cuomo had acknowledged before, but he had not been candid with the network. You know, Cuomo said on the air, there is a wall between what I do and what the reporters at CNN do who are covering Cuomo. But, you know, he has an hour of prime time among its own - most watched show on the air, and he's not devoting time to exploring seriously the serious questions being raised about Chris Cuomo - excuse me, about then-Governor Cuomo. Whether or not there's a wall between what Chris Cuomo did and what other reporters did, he is involved in trying to manage and manipulate what other reporters are reporting about the governor, and that's not a good place for any journalist of any serious measure to be involved.
SHAPIRO: I think many people will remember in the early months of the pandemic when Chris Cuomo had his brother, Andrew, the then-governor of New York, on his program, and they had this sort of buddy movie vibe. Did CNN express any regrets or second thoughts about that?
FOLKENFLIK: You know, we sure haven't heard it. If so, they haven't really been willing to entertain that. They say, look, you know, this is programming that was done sensibly when the nation was in lockdown, and it was a way of trying to, you know, not make everybody kind of want to put poison in their cereal each morning. It's just some way to bring a little life and humor to it. That's all well and good, but Cuomo was also portrayed in some ways as an exemplar of how you should handle the pandemic - somebody who was not only the love gov, as his younger brother said, but an effective avatar of coverage. It turns out that there's been a lot of serious questions raised about the way Cuomo handled that. You wouldn't have heard anything about that on Chris Cuomo's show.
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what do you think this says about CNN's leadership and their handling of this?
FOLKENFLIK: I think it's very ad hoc at the moment. I think it has to do with whether or not they think the people involved are problematic. You remember the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin came back on the air after he exposed himself to colleagues at the New Yorker magazine on a Zoom call. The New Yorker dispensed with his services. He was off the air for a time at CNN. But much to the astonishment of many colleagues, he came back on.
SHAPIRO: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks a lot.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.