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Media Meltdowns

CNN’s Brian Stelter Tries A New Job

Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media reporter and guy who thinks kids who saw their friends murdered in school should tone down their anti-gun rhetoric, seems to have taken on a new job at the network in recent days. Stelter’s been hard at work as a crisis management consultant for his bosses and colleague Chris Cuomo, who has himself been working as a crisis management consultant for his older brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who finally resigned yesterday after many, many women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and groping.

CNN publicly reprimanded Cuomo in May for advising his brother on how he should handle the allegations. Cuomo apologized for the bad optics, and CNN then banned him from talking about his brother on air. But in the past week, following the release of the attorney general’s report on Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment, it’s become clear that Cuomo was far more involved in his brother’s crisis management than previously thought, even going so far as to help draft a public statement on behalf of the governor. The New York Times also reported that Cuomo has remained in close contact with his brother this past week, as the calls for his resignation grew louder.

Last night, Stelter showed up on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, doing his best impression of someone who knows how to unclench his hands, and explained that this whole *flaps arms* pesky situation in which one of his network’s biggest names acted unethically is “definitely awkward,” but nothing more! Stelter argued that although Chris Cuomo may have fucked up, his transgression didn’t stop CNN from covering Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal just the same as they would any other story. “Ultimately, isn’t that what matters?” he asked.

This is not, ultimately, what matters, as evidenced by Stelter’s sweaty efforts at damage control, but even if it were, the argument doesn’t hold up. CNN inarguably has not covered the story the same way that they’d cover anything else. The show Chris Cuomo hosts airs every night at 9:00 p.m. ET (a primetime slot for any cable news network), and has made no mention of the scandal surrounding Andrew Cuomo for the past few weeks. That’s because Chris Cuomo was banned from talking about his brother by his bosses, who for whatever reason decided it would be a good idea to keep Chris Cuomo around instead of just firing him and replacing him with someone who was not so ethically compromised that it would prevent CNN from talking about the biggest political story in the country during their primetime show.

On Sunday, Stelter devoted a whole segment of his own show to talking about how “complicated” and “unprecedented” the situation with the Cuomos is, which Stelter argued had no “perfect solution.” In the segment, Stelter again emphasized that last week Cuomo “made no reference to his brother’s troubles,” as if the network’s primetime news show ignoring any mention of the growing likelihood that the New York governor would resign or be impeached was something to be proud of and not an abject failure. He claimed staffers felt sympathy for Chris Cuomo, without bothering to specify how many staffers he spoke with or where they were positioned in the company. He alluded repeatedly to management while eliding who exactly is making the decisions at CNN. Stelter actually reporting on his own employer—pressing for real answers and insights about how CNN and its staff conceive of its role in reporting the news—could have been a worthwhile endeavor. Instead, Stelter’s entire monologue was oriented around protecting his employer’s reputation, premised on the precarious idea that Chris Cuomo is somehow irreplaceable. In the segment, Stelter dismissed valid criticism of the network as “bad-faith nonsense,” mewled that this is “really really difficult time” for Chris, who “just wants to do his job,” and generally proved himself to be a valuable mouthpiece for management.

“The logic on the part of management,” Stelter said, without a hint of shame, “is that whatever Chris says about the allegations against his brother will be picked apart. He will be accused of either using his platform to spin for his family or he will be accused of betraying his brother. The logic is that he should just stay out of it, and do the job that the viewers want him to do.”

This logic is doesn’t add up—who cares if someone thinks Chris Cuomo betrayed his brother?—but the real flaw here is thinking that anyone who is not a CNN executive or staffer cares about Chris Cuomo at all. Keeping Chris Cuomo around at the expense of the network’s integrity and ability to engage with an important news story is premised on the belief viewers would give two shits if Chris were replaced with some other guy who can approximate gravitas. That Stelter’s bosses believe this is evidence of late-stage TV brain rot; his willingness to ventriloquize for those bosses, however, is just good old company-man stooging.