WASHINGTON – When Republican-elected officials were confronted by protesters last year at public places and outside their homes over Trump administration policies, CNN and most other major networks defended the protesters, saying they were exercising their right to free speech in a public venue.
But after Cable News Network prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo threatened physical violence against a heckler at a bar last weekend while Cuomo was out with his family, the network stood behind him, and now it appears unlikely that Cuomo’s mea culpa will be followed by any disciplinary action.
On Monday night, CNN spokesperson Matt Dornic made it clear that the network was standing behind Cuomo.
“Chris Cuomo defended himself when he was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur in an orchestrated setup,” Dornic said in a statement posted on Twitter. “We completely support him.”
On Tuesday morning, the anchor posted his own tweet.
Appreciate all the support but – truth is I should be better than the guys baiting me. This happens all the time these days. Often in front of my family. But there is a lesson: no need to add to the ugliness; I should be better than what I oppose.
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) August 13, 2019
The Republican officials who were harassed chose to walk away rather than respond.
In June 2018, then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders respected the wishes of the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., who told Sanders she could not dine there because she serves in the Trump administration. The same month then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen left a D.C. Mexican restaurant rather than respond to activists who were jeered her. And in September of that year Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), and his wife Heidi, left an upscale Italian restaurant in D.C. rather than respond to protesters.
Are public officials expected to exhibit different behavior than journalists in the face of hecklers?
“One way to assess his (Cuomo’s) overreaction, replete with repeated childish and trite profanity, is to contrast how dignified celebrities would have reacted: George F. Will, Tucker Carlson, Wolf Blitzer, etc.,” said Richard Vatz, a professor of political persuasion at Towson University in Maryland.
He added: “None of them would allow the indignities of a stranger to force them to engage, unless they were physically attacked, which he was not. Cuomo should have walked away…now he will probably inspire more people to accost him in a provocative manner.”
Tom DeLuca, a professor of political science at Fordham University in New York City, said elected officials and political newscasters are often not that different from each other.
“A lot of political leaders and news journalists, really these people are tv news readers or tv news personalities or really commentators-they’re not that different than politicians in today’s media world.”
DeLuca added: “So I’m not sure the distinction is that great, except that I think reporters need to maintain at least a veneer of objectivity, which means it is probably wise for them to refrain from getting into these kinds of scrums with anybody.”
“Of course in this case, where Cuomo is talking about potentially hurting somebody, that’s just wrong, he shouldn’t do that,” DeLuca said.
The incident reportedly occurred on Sunday. It was filmed by a conservative activist. The video was posted online on Monday night.
CNN's Chris Cuomo Threatening Trump Supporter with Violence! "I'll throw your punk ass down the stairs!"pic.twitter.com/QOmdxwivWX
— THAT'S THE POINT with Brandon (@THEECONSTITUTI1) August 13, 2019
It is unclear how the confrontation began. When the video starts, it shows an unidentified man approach Cuomo and call him “Fredo.”
Fredo is a reference to the Fredo Corleone character in the legendary movie “The Godfather.” In the first installment of the epic film series, Fredo is passed over by his other younger brother, Michael, who is chosen by family patriarch Vito Corelone to lead the all-powerful New York-based mafioso crime family. Fredo is killed on Michael’s instructions in the second installment of the series.
The video shows Cuomo respond with outrage at the film character’s reference. He launched into a tirade full of profanities, saying that only people “from the right call me ‘Fredo.’
“My name is Chris Cuomo. I’m an anchor on CNN. ‘Fredo’ was from ‘The Godfather.’ He was a weak brother and they use that as an Italian slur — are any of you Italian? … It’s like the N-word for us.”
The heckler responded with sarcasm.
“You’re a much more reasonable guy in person than you seem to be on television.”
Cuomo responded with a profanity-laced threat to “ruin” the man and “throw [him] down these stairs.”
A video obtained by the New York Post showed Cuomo refer to himself as “Fredo” in a 2010 radio interview after radio personality Curtis Sliwa referred to Cuomo’s family as “Cuomo Nostra” — a play on the term “Cosa Nostra,” which refers to the Mafia that originated in Siclly.
Cuomo’s brother is Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, who followed in the footsteps of their late father, Mario. The elder Cuomo led the state from 1983-1994.
President Donald Trump also called Chris Cuomo “Fredo,” mocking the journalist in a tweet on Tuesday and retweeting the video. “I thought Chris was Fredo also. The truth hurts. Totally lost it!”
Cuomo has been on vacation and will return to his show on Monday night.