The Media Today

The Cuomo brothers in prime time

April 3, 2020

In recent weeks, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, has become a star. News networks have carried his daily press briefings live and in full. He’s also gotten buzz for the interviews he’s done with his brother, Chris Cuomo, who anchors a nightly show on CNN. Typically, the exchanges have been bookended by sibling banter. “I know you’re working hard for your state, but no matter how hard you’re working, there’s always time to call Mom,” Chris told Andrew in mid-March. Andrew had just called her, he replied. “The good news is she said you are her second-favorite son, Christopher.” The next time, Andrew said he was only on air because “Mom told me I had to.” Later on, he told Chris, “You’re better than me.” “Only on the basketball court,” Chris replied.

Andrew most recently appeared on Chris’s show Monday night. The next day, Chris announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He’d experienced “fever, chills, and shortness of breath,” but was doing okay, and would continue to host his show from the basement of his home, where he’s in quarantine. At Andrew’s next briefing, he said that his brother was his “best friend” and “a really, sweet beautiful guy.” Then he pulled out the plastic shiv: “He’s young, in good shape, strong—not as strong as he thinks, but he’ll be fine.” During yesterday’s briefing, Andrew patched Chris in via video link to ask how he was doing. Chris said he’d had a fever dream in which Andrew had appeared to him in a ballet outfit and said, “I wish I could wave my wand and make this go away.” Once he’d gotten over the shock of that, Andrew praised Chris for carrying on with his show while sick. “You living it, showing it, doing it, doing the show, reporting on how you feel, reporting on what you’re doing—I think it really demystifies this,” Andrew said. “From a journalistic point of view, a public service point of view, you are answering questions for millions of Americans.”

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In recent days, the double act has received positive reviews. The Associated Press wrote, in a headline, that “the Cuomo show, Andrew and Chris,” is “enlivening coronavirus TV.” Dan Adler observed, for Vanity Fair, that their performance “has already spiraled in all sorts of directions, whether out of the need for distractions, heroes, or points of clarification.” Poppy Noor, of The Guardian, called the Cuomos’ “fine bromance” a “balm in troubled times,” proof that “warmth can be conveyed over the airwaves—even during a crisis” and that “the people who serve us during this pandemic are also humans—people who have family they love.” Chris has won plaudits individually, too; last night, Brian Stelter, a colleague at CNN, wrote in his newsletter that Chris is “the most visible face of the coronavirus in the United States.” Stelter added that Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, had advised Cuomo to take some time off work. So far, he hasn’t. “I respect the suggestion,” Stelter wrote, of Gupta’s advice, “but I respect the work ethic more!”

All this praise invites skepticism, however. Should Chris be allowed to interview a family member in a journalistic setting? Other news organizations don’t seem to allow similar dynamics: last year, for instance, James Bennet, the editorial page editor at the New York Times, recused himself from campaign coverage after his brother, Senator Michael Bennet, started running for president. When it comes to the Cuomos, the matter has been raised before: in 2013, when Chris interviewed Andrew about a train derailment on the Metro-North, he received flak for doing so. Chris said at the time that he wouldn’t have conducted the interview if it had involved “accountability” or Andrew’s personal ambitions. “It’s obvious,” he said. “If it’s about his political career, or his political actions, or things that he must answer for, that’s for somebody else to do.”

In recent weeks, however, Chris has asked Andrew about speculation online that he might make a late run for the White House. And as Ross Barkan wrote recently for CJR, Andrew does have serious questions to answer related to his handling of the coronavirus. Chris has apparently decided that it’s fine, now, for him to be in the position of asking those questions, even as he continues to tease and praise Andrew. Chris isn’t the only journalist lauding the governor right now, of course; far from it. But he is the only journalist who is Andrew’s brother. Why not have another CNN reporter step in? A CNN representative did not respond to a request for comment by press time; Andrew, for his part, has goaded Chris: “C’mon,” he said, during one exchange. “Ask me a tough question.”

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Chris continuing to anchor through his diagnosis raises a different concern, too—about how he, not his brother, is responding to the coronavirus. He’s said on his show that he doesn’t intend to become the public face of the pandemic. But on Tuesday night, he said, “We do not have the testing data to make real sense of our reality beyond what we know is the face of it for an overwhelming number who get sick. And that face is mine.” Since then, he’s talked about his symptoms; at one point, he’d been shivering so much he chipped a tooth; by now he’s lost thirteen pounds. Last night, Gupta told him, again, that he should probably take time off. What’s the shame in that, and what is he demonstrating by continuing to work, in defiance of medical advice?

It’s hard to tell if the Andrew and Chris show is genuine or not. Personal experience and family connections can illuminate stories that would otherwise be abstract. Yet there are plenty of ways Chris Cuomo could communicate about his health with CNN viewers while also taking time to recuperate. While he’s out, a colleague could talk with his brother.

Below, more on the coronavirus:

Other notable stories:

  • A court in Pakistan reversed an old ruling in the case of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent who was murdered in 2002 while reporting on religious violence. The same year, Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British extremist, was convicted of murder, terrorism, and kidnapping in Pearl’s case, but yesterday, the court overturned the first two convictions and downgraded the third, meaning Sheikh may now be released. State prosecutors plan to appeal. Reporters Without Borders said the verdict was “incoherent” and “a shocking symbol of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists.”
  • This week, authorities in Myanmar arrested Nay Myo Lin, editor-in-chief of the Voice of Myanmar, after he broadcast an interview with a representative of a designated terrorist group. According to Human Rights Watch, the arrest is part of a “deepening crackdown on independent media” in Myanmar in recent days. (ICYMI, E. Tammy Kim reported for CJR last year on the many undercovered violations of press freedom in Myanmar.)
  • And Hans J.G. Hassell, John B. Holbein, and Matthew R. Miles conclude, in a paper for Science Advances, that although a “dominant majority” of journalists identify as liberals, their ideological orientation has “unexpectedly little effect” on what they choose to cover. The media, Hassell, Holbein, and Miles write, “exhibits no bias against conservatives.”

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.