Chris Cuomo seeks $125 million after being fired from CNN
Former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo is seeking $125 million in damages after the network fired him in December.
Cuomo was first suspended, then terminated, by then CNN President Jeff Zucker for violating CNN's journalistic ethics when Cuomo helped his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, navigate the sexual harassment allegations against him.
Both Zucker and CNN's former chief marketing officer Allison Gollust, who is also a former staffer to the governor, have also been accused of advising Gov. Cuomo on how to handle the allegations of sexual harassment, and on how to navigate attacks from former President Donald Trump.
Now, Chris Cuomo says that CNN used him as a "scapegoat."
"CNN repeatedly breached its agreement with Cuomo, and Cuomo has suffered untold damage to his personal and professional reputation. As a direct result of CNN's calculated efforts to tar and feather him, Cuomo is now untouchable in the world of broadcast journalism," a filing seeking arbitration, obtained exclusively by Deadline, says.
Cuomo's lawyer, Bryan Freedman, argues that CNN changed its ethics and standards practices to boost ratings during the start of the pandemic. The standards practices were a "moving target" based on what benefitted network executives, the filing says.
For example, in 2013, CNN said Chris Cuomo could not interview family members, including his brother. But in March 2020, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo gained traction for his COVID-19 briefings and handling of the pandemic, he started appearing on Chris Cuomo's CNN show. The governor was interviewed by his brother nine times.
The filing says that both Cuomo and Gov. Cuomo "expressed reservations" about the interviews. But Zucker and Gollust insisted the interviews continue because they boosted the network's ratings.
Filing alleges a push to shift Gov. Cuomo's COVID-19 briefings to help boost CNN's ratings
Perhaps more surprisingly, the filing alleges that Zucker and Gollust had Gov. Cuomo move his COVID-19 briefings to the afternoon to help the network boost its weaker ratings during those hours.
"As CNN has admitted, network standards were changed in a calculated decision to boost ratings. When those practices were called into question, Chris was made the scapegoat," Freedman said in a statement.
"The legal action filed today makes clear that CNN wrongfully terminated Chris and further violated the express terms of his employment agreement by allowing its employees to disparage him. Chris is owed a full apology from those responsible," Freedman said.
A CNN spokesperson declined to comment when reached by NPR.
When Gov. Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment, CNN knew the extent of Cuomo helping his brother, the filing says, and said nothing about it.
"It should by now be obvious to everyone that Chris Cuomo did not lie to CNN about helping his brother," Freedman said. "In fact, as the limited information released from WarnerMedia's investigation makes clear, CNN's highest-level executives not only knew about Chris's involvement in helping his brother but also actively assisted the Governor, both through Chris and directly themselves."
The Wall Street Journal reports that Gollust herself was sending Gov. Cuomo, her former boss, advice on how to respond to the sexual harassment allegations.
In February, Zucker resigned from the network, disclosing that he was in a relationship with Gollust which he had not properly disclosed. Gollust also resigned last month after an external investigation of CNN conducted by a law firm was concluded.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told CNN staffers in a memo that the investigation found that Zucker, Gollust and Cuomo all violated CNN's news standards and practices rules.
At the time, Gollust said in a statement that Kilar was seeking to "retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks."
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