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CNN shrugged off a report that one of its hosts, Chris Cuomo, received special treatment from New York state health officials during the pandemic at the behest of his brother.
The network did not challenge any aspects of the report or claim it was false. CNN spokesman Matt Dornic suggested that the Cuomo seeking out help from his brother, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during the pandemic was “not surprising.”
“We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees,” Dornic said. “However, it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would.”
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) March 25, 2021
CNN’s statement follows a Wednesday report that the New York governor used his authority to secure COVID-19 tests for members of his family and other influential people in the early days of the pandemic when tests were scarce. The governor’s office denied the report.
“It’s being a little bit distorted with like a devious intent. … We made sure to test people they believed were exposed,” an official in the governor’s office said. “All of this was being done in good faith in an effort to trace the virus.”
The reported special treatment the CNN anchor received from his brother raises more ethical questions about the network’s decision to allow the New York governor on Chris’s CNN program for notoriously softball interviews.
Chris announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 31, about two weeks after New York began shutting down schools and businesses and in the early days of the pandemic when COVID tests were hard to come by. The CNN anchor said that he would continue doing his show from his basement for the period of his quarantine.
A day prior to his diagnosis, Chris had had his brother on CNN to discuss the pandemic, then-President Donald Trump’s response, and the possibility that the New York governor would run for president. The CNN anchor never addressed a recent order by the New York governor to bar nursing homes from rejecting hospitalized COVID patients on the basis of a positive test, which at the time was already drawing blowback from the nursing home industry and has since prompted an investigation into Gov. Cuomo’s COVID-19 response.
The New York governor continued to appear on Chris’s CNN show several more times throughout the pandemic, with his last appearance coming in June. At the end of a June 24 interview, Chris praised his brother’s handling of the pandemic as controversy continued to grow around the New York governor’s nursing home order.
“I’m wowed by what you did. And, more importantly, I’m wowed by how you did it. This was very hard. I know it’s not over. But obviously, I love you as a brother,” the CNN anchor said. “Obviously, I’ll never be objective. Obviously, I think you’re the best politician in the country. But I hope you feel good about what you did for your people.”
In January, New York Attorney General Letisha James announced that deaths from COVID among nursing home residents may have been undercounted by as much as 50%. Weeks later, a top aid for the New York governor apologized to Democrats in the state legislature for hiding key data on the pandemic’s impact on nursing homes, citing fear of an investigation by the Department of Justice.