Cuomo Conflicts

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Andrew and Chris Cuomo image

If Chris Cuomo considers himself a journalist, he forgot who he’s working for.

Journalists work for the public interest, not for conflict of interest favors for his brother, Andrew, the former governor of New York who left office amid a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations by 11 women.

A CNN superstar broadcaster, Chris Cuomo admits to a “family first, job second” ethical standard that led him to strategize a defense with his brother, while allegedly using his media contacts and helping the brother to dig up information about one of the female accusers.

For that, CNN placed the star anchor on indefinite suspension from the network because “he broke our rules.”

Acknowledging his suspension on a radio program, Chris Cuomo said: “It really hurts to say it, it’s embarrassing, but I understand it and I understand why some people feel the way they do about what I did. I’ve apologized in the past and I mean it, it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do was compromise any of my colleagues and do anything but help.” He has called his actions a “mistake.”

Cases like this tend to convince the public that journalists have no ethical standards, and smear journalists who recognize they have a calling that requires them to act with high standards, and abide by them. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics spells out those standards. Journalists should:

*Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

*Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

*Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, points out that some observers sympathize with the “family first” defense, but she is not impressed.

“No, this was about a high-powered media star using his considerable juice to blunt credible accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against the governor of New York,” she wrote. “Even if you accept the idea that Chris Cuomo is less a journalist than an entertainer, the rules of journalistic ethics still ought to apply. He is, as much as anyone, the face of CNN.”

The rules are pretty simple, says Sullivan: “You don’t abuse your position in journalism — whether at a weekly newspaper or a major network — for personal or familial gain.”


The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

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