Chris Cuomo’s Fate May Now Hinge on the Standards of CNN Parent Co. Warner-Discovery  

(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Even CNN head Jeff Zucker has to answer to a higher authority on this.

There was some interesting grist recently when news spread that John Malone, billionaire media mogul, came out with comments about CNN making a return to journalism. “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” said the head of Liberty Media, which has a significant stake in the Warners-Discovery conglomerate. It led to amusing considerations in some circles; how scared will Brian Stelter and Jim Acosta be at the concept of being expected to return to journalism??

Since Malone’s comments, the ever-widening scandal of Chris Cuomo developed further, with the revelations this week of his deeper involvement in his brother Andrew’s sex scandals becoming revealed. This led to Chris being suspended from the network Tuesday, and as for his fate, that seems to be murkier than expected. At first blush, it would appear that he would eventually come to reclaim his chair in the primetime slot he has long occupied. After all, this is the network that saw fit to allow Jeffrey Toobin back on the air. But when looking at the recent acquisition, things seem less solid for Cuomo’s future.

When the news of the Warner merger with Discovery was announced, one of the parlor games to follow was what would be the future for CNN. There was long-simmering speculation that Jeff Zucker was eyeing the exit doors, considering the network’s ratings and fortunes had been eroding consistently, and it was also suggested the new merger would see the conglomerate selling or spinning off the money-losing asset. That talk changed though, when it was announced that Discovery CEO David Zaslav would be taking the helm of the new entity.

Zaslav was the force behind creating MSNBC and CNBC, so he has news experience. He also is an ally of Zucker’s, and Zaslav’s ascension means Jeff is not likely going anywhere soon. Neither is CNN. The network is working to launch its own streaming platform by next spring, fitting into the Warner-HBO model. This is probably why John Malone downplayed the idea of dispatching CNN. “A coward’s way out would be to sell or spin it off and then sell it,” is his position. 

But that brings us back to his statement about returning things to a past standard of journalistic integrity for the cable network. When he made those comments, there were already plenty of signs of where that fix could be applied. The revelation that Chris Cuomo was even deeper in his involvement with his brother’s scandal could mean a dire reckoning for the star. While CNN has taken a permissive stance towards his ethical lapses for over a year now, there are policies in place with the parent company that could become problematic.

Warner Media has a guidebook of their stated business practices, where the company specifically lays out parameters that would involve the very activities seen from Chris Cuomo. In the Warner Media Standards Of Business Conduct, the corporation addresses specifically the case where it is inappropriate for employees to involve themselves with family matters which could impact negatively on  business operations. This can be found in the section with the heading We Avoid Conflicts Of Interest. [Page 16 in the manual, found on pg. 21 of the PDF]

A conflict of interest arises when a personal or family interest interferes with our ability to make sound, objective business decisions on behalf of the Company. Despite the best of intentions, even the appearance of a conflict can be harmful to the Company.  

Warner Media Standards Of Business Practice,’ screenshot. Credit: Warner Media-Discovery website

 

The Cuomo matter not only is clearly applied here but, once you rope in the journalistic entanglements, those compound the problems caused by his actions. The Cuomo family interest clearly interfered with sound decisions, it shredded objectivity, and more than the appearance of conflicts of interest, the behavior of Chris Cuomo can be said to define the term. 

None of this paints a hopeful picture for the future of CNN’s top-rated host. He may still find his way back onto the airwaves – this is CNN, after all, and the network has shown it is not at all concerned with the portrayal of its character when it comes to the talent they permit to be seen and heard on its broadcasts. But as he takes this mandated sabbatical, the discussions at CNN corporate are likely to veer from the typical planning of how to justify getting him back on the air. 

The executives from the parent division may be dictating how reprisals need to be enacted, to start bringing those desired old-school journalism standards back to the news division. Should this take place, and Warners-Discovery seeks to get towards that news standard that John Malone referred to as “unique and refreshing,” Chris Cuomo might end up facing a fate similar to that of his ostracized brother from the New York governor’s mansion.