Cuomo Brothers’ Downfall Reveals a Gross Bro Code Among Powerful Media Men

The internet birthed a new kind of guy yesterday: the Brother Guy. He’s not great.

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Cuomo Brothers’ Downfall Reveals a Gross Bro Code Among Powerful Media Men
Photo:Dia Dipasupil (Getty Images)

The worldwide web, somewhat like the actual wide world, is replete with guys. The wife guy is a classic one. I’m mostly on board with the wife guy. A guy who’s really into his wife and won’t shut up about it? Fine, okay. The curvy wife guy took it to a weird place, but in general, being into your wife: seems good.

On Tuesday, following the news that CNN anchor Chris Cuomo is finally facing consequences for having a very poor understanding of journalistic ethics (possibly of journalism writ large), the internet saw the birth of a new genus of guy: the brother guy.

In a nutshell, we learned back in August that the younger Cuomo had helped his older brother, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, spin multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault against him—a clear breach of basic journalistic standards. CNN kept him on air. Then this week, New York Attorney General Letitia James released thousands of pages of evidence that the CNN anchor was far more intimately involved in the scandal than previously known: He had actively reached out to other journalists, like celebrated #MeToo reporter Ronan Farrow, to track down information about the status of upcoming stories on his brother, and he also tracked down information on his brother’s accusers.

CNN suspended him Tuesday, and a few powerful media bros jumped to the anchor’s defense.

To be clear, I myself am a well-known brother guy. I have two brothers and if we’ve met even in passing you know this about me. You probably know they are by far my favorite relations. An ex-boyfriend I dated in my early 20s told me it was “annoying” how much I liked my youngest brother, who is 10 years younger than me and has been a hilarious genius for as long as he’s been alive. The people who find my brother guy behavior most annoying are undoubtedly my brothers.

And yet, I also have had conversations with them about not being abject monsters, because I don’t particularly want to “do some unethical shit” in the event that they’re not capable of moving through the world without being aggro little demons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m down to do crimes for and/or with them, but I’d like them to be righteous crimes, not aimed at discrediting women they’ve groped at work. I’d aim for us to skew more toward that Spanish antifa show with all the hot people on Netflix than, say, Succession.

This posturing is also just such goofy little boy shit. “I would do crimes for my brother.” Okay Matty, you’re a real big boy and we’re all impressed. Go to bed now.

This particular notion of “helping” is also so telling. Andrew Cuomo, for the record, did not “fall into trouble.” He wasn’t down on his luck; he wasn’t committing crimes of poverty to support an addiction; he didn’t make ill-advised investments. He systematically mistreated, abused and demeaned people who worked for him on the basis of their gender, which is illegal. He fostered and encouraged a culture of bullying and even retaliation, which is also illegal. He engaged in corruption, took advantage of free labor in a clear violation of government ethics, covered up the deaths of elderly people in a pandemic, and stymied the hard work of public health officials at a time when doing so almost certainly caused more deaths that might have otherwise been avoided. None of these are small things. They’re not even just one thing. He didn’t “fall into trouble.” He fell from grace—and it took far longer than it should have.

And the same is now true for Chris Cuomo. Chris lied to his bosses, and he lied to his viewers, on air. He told them in August, “I never made calls to the press about my brother’s situation,” and yet text messages show him checking in with “sources” at his brother’s henchwoman’s behest to run down information on Farrow’s first Cuomo exposé. Chris even, it seems, lied to the attorney general’s investigators, when he told them he didn’t engage in opposition research against women reporting sexual harassment, while text messages show him clearly doing so, telling that same henchwoman that he had “a lead on the wedding girl being put up to it” (“the wedding girl” being Anna Ruch, the young woman the governor menaced, fondled and tried to coerce a kiss from).

This is not, by the way, how you “help” a person who has done something wrong. There is a path of healing for the elder Cuomo, hypothetically, if he was perhaps a different person, capable of empathy and reflection and growth. A loving brother could help him to own his behavior, to seek counseling, to learn how to move through the world in a way that isn’t rooted in fear and oppression and domination. That’s not the path either Cuomo took. Neither of them chose honesty, or courage.

CNN took way too long to suspend Chris Cuomo, pending further review (of what? Unclear. Will he continue to be paid? Also unclear). They explained in their statement that they “understood his need to put his family first and his job second,” which is gallows-humor hilarious in a country that can’t get it up to pass paid family leave in an ongoing global pandemic.

Now let’s check in with parents and caregivers across the country… what’s that? They can’t come on air because they’re too busy holding 100 things together with both hands and zero institutional support from any entity, employer or government? Huh. And yet Chris didn’t even have to take a paid leave of absence, or even simply swap time slots with a host who wasn’t embroiled in a major conflict of interest.

Chris Cuomo’s only comments on Tuesday were issued on his radio show, where he complained that his brother was denied “due process,” displaying an incoherent concept of the meaning of the legal term. Chris no doubt also believes he is being railroaded, despite being given truly innumerable second chances—even now, CNN has only gingerly suspended him “pending further evaluation.” There is more evidence against these people than exists for most people currently incarcerated, and still they somehow manage to claim they’ve been wronged.

And now we get to see venerated media men exhibit a literal “bros before hoes” response to this behavior. They don’t see the galling disrespect CNN as an institution has shown the rest of its workforce—or, for that matter, people who have trusted them with vulnerable personal information in the past. Because they don’t see power structures clearly, which is a truly embarrassing blindspot to have in journalism.

Sure, it’s likely that these media men haven’t deigned to actually read the documents, and are instead coasting by with drive-by observations rooted in their own extremely limited but apparently highly valuable experience of the world. But it’s a telling indication of who they choose to listen to.

For example, if either of them followed Rachel Silberstein, a stellar local reporter for the Albany Times-Union who’s covered Cuomo for years and is now reporting on education and the coronavirus, they might have noticed that the documents also showed the hungrily brown-nosing involvement of the current chancellor of New York’s state university system, Jim Malatras, a man whose appointment to that position was and remains baffling as he has just about zero qualification. They could read THE CITY, a robust non-profit local news outlet that outlined all of the players in the trove of AG documents, including MSNBC’s Katy Tur, whom former Pete Buttigieg senior advisor Lis Smith bragged was “saying my spin live. Like verbatim.” We have one person here with a major platform—her own cable news show—and another with a direct line to a current White House Cabinet member.

The documents also prominently feature the involvement of Linda Lacewell in these smear campaigns—the former Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, who must have had more meaningful things to do in a major employment crisis during which the federal government clawed back the minuscule amounts of support it was providing to people struggling to get by during—again, I cannot emphasize this enough—a fucking global pandemic that is ongoing, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving countless others seemingly permanently ill. (Lacewell, for the record, is out of that post as of August, but Kathy Hochul, now the governor and energetically running for reelection, appointed an arguably anti-regulation fox in the henhouse in Adrienne Harris.) How are the primary questions here not ones of accountability?

The trawling nets of all investigations into the political Cuomo brother catch some big fish: Alphonso David is back again—he was at the time the head of the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, Human Rights Campaign, and had his own little “due process” snit when they found his well-documented behavior appalling and set him aside. The implosion, too, of Time’s Up, ostensibly meant to be an organization to elevate and protect the least powerful, was an aftershock of the Cuomo investigation—these scions of power chose to “reset” their mission by laying off all of their staff. Once again, it’s the least powerful who pay the price for the most powerfuls’ misdeeds, and media men’s idle musings concern only their fantasy selves, little warrior brother boys enabling their fantasy bad brothers.

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