Yesterday, footage hit the internet of CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo threatening to throw a man down a flight of stairs. In the video, Cuomo revealed himself to be furious that the man called him “Fredo,” suggesting that it was “like the n-word” for Italians.
Rather than walk this statement back, CNN doubled down. Matt Dornic, CNN’s Vice President of Communications, tweeted that Cuomo “was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur” and that “[CNN] completely support[s] him.” Dornic also retweeted the recently inaugurated #NeverTrumper Anthony Scaramucci, who suggested that the “Fredo” insult was “quite racist.”
CNN doubled down on Cuomo’s assertion that calling an Italian man “Fredo” is “like the n-word.” It's not.
CNN very much overreacted. The behavior of Cuomo’s antagonist was appalling. Confronting a public figure and insulting them, while they are out with their family, is contemptible behavior, and Cuomo’s anger is understandable – even if he himself would never treat Republicans with the same charity.
But CNN didn’t leave it there. They didn’t say, “Cuomo was rudely accosted, it’s perfectly understandable he lost his temper under the circumstances, and we stand behind him 100%.” No. CNN doubled down on Cuomo’s assertion that calling an Italian man “Fredo” is “like the n-word.”
It’s not. And to even argue the point demonstrates remarkable arrogance – from Cuomo, but even more so from CNN.
NOT LIKE EVERYBODY SAYS
First, to lay out the obvious: calling an Italian man - or anyone for that matter - “Fredo,” does not carry any racial connotations whatsoever. “Fredo” refers to Fredo Corleone, the useless, black sheep brother of Michael Corleone in the Godfather films. Today, people who are seen as the ineffectual sons or brothers of wealthy and successful families are often referred to as “Fredo” - regardless of their race.
For example, here is “Republican” strategist Ana Navarro—on Chris Cuomo’s very own show—referring to Donald Trump Jr. as “Fredo,” with Cuomo barely blinking. Donald Trump Jr. is not Italian; his mother is Czech, his father of American and Scottish descent.
Jake Tapper, Cuomo’s colleague, also understands that Fredo can be used broadly. He's used it to refer to Jared Kushner, Muammar Qaddafi’s son, and one of his own dogs. Needless to say, none of these beings are Italian (except, perhaps, the dog).
[caption id="attachment_180087" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Christopher Cuomo[/caption]
In jumping to Cuomo’s defense, then, what CNN did is actual cultural appropriation. People try and characterize appropriation as white teenagers attending festivals in henna tattoos and costume jewelry. But appropriation begins, first and foremost, with one group acting as though they own another group’s history, culture, and voice. CNN’s casual conflation of a film character—one that Cuomo has previously used to refer to himself—with the historic pain of the “n-word” is a perfect example.
Negligible slights—or even perfectly understandable interpersonal conflicts—get cast as analogous to great historic evils.
In 1969, Carol Hanisch turned the phrase "the personal is political," into a rallying cry for subsequent civil rights activism in America. Wave after wave of minorities struggled in the 1960s and 1970s to make their private, often invisible personal struggles matters of public knowledge—and in doing so create the impetus for meaningful policy change.
Today, CNN anchors like Chris Cuomo are leveraging this strategy to grant them impunity for bad behavior. Negligible slights—or even perfectly understandable interpersonal conflicts—get cast as analogous to great historic evils.
Of course, our left-wing journalistic betters feel little remorse in appropriating slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and the indignity of slurs like the “n-word” for their own purposes. They've convinced themselves that they have exclusive rights to the political support of black Americans, that they speak for black interests, and that this is political terrain that they, alone, are allowed to occupy.
A PATTERN AND A PRACTICE
This isn’t the first time that CNN anchors have treated serious racial issues with complete flippancy. In June, Chris Cuomo tried to cast the argument that Kamala Harris is not African-American as a “conspiracy theory” akin to birtherism. Never mind that his colleague Don Lemon himself argued that Harris was not African-American a few months earlier, noting that Harris’s parents are of Jamaican and Indian ancestry. The existence of a nuanced debate about the bounds of African-American identity was inconvenient to Cuomo and CNN – so they ignored it, told their audience it was a conspiracy, and erased the voice of their most prominent black anchor in the process.
Moreover, if black Americans refuse to toe the #NeverTrump line, they are in for brutal treatment by CNN. When Republican strategist Kimberly Klacik highlighted the terrible state of West Baltimore, CNN’s Brian Stelter went on the offensive, accusing her of doing work with “racist connotations,” and falsely claiming that she lost a local county race. And when Baltimore pastor Reverend Bill Owens refused to criticize the President in an interview with Don Lemon, CNN’s production team changed the chyron under his name from “faith leader” to “controversial pastor,” with Lemon proceeding to chastise Owens for his opposition to gay marriage.
The spectacle of CNN anchors casually appropriating the narrative of black Americans to paper over their personal shortcomings, and otherwise treating African-Americans as instruments of their anti-Trump crusade, is profoundly immoral—and, frankly, racist.
Perhaps Chris Cuomo, Brian Stelter, and the rest of CNN’s #Resistance brigade should stop screaming about President Trump – and take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Will Chamberlain is a lawyer and the publisher of Human Events.