President Donald Trump on Tuesday called CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s expletive-laden exchange with a heckler “indefensible,” splitting with some of his staunchest defenders in the media, many of whom have also come to the defense of the cable news host.
“I think that what Chris Cuomo did was horrible. His language was horrible. He looked like a total, out of control animal — he lost it,” the president told reporters as he departed for an event in Pennsylvania.
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Cuomo, the host of the eponymously named “Cuomo Prime Time,” went viral Monday night when a conservative provocateur posted a video of him online. In the video, which is shot from a low angle, Cuomo erupts after being called “Fredo” by a heckler who claims not to know the anchor’s name. Cuomo says that the term, a reference to the mafia movie “The Godfather,” is “an Italian aspersion,” comparing it to the racial slur used against African Americans. “It it’s like the n-word for us,” Cuomo said.
The conversation captured in the video deteriorates quickly, with Cuomo threatening the heckler, at one point warning him, “I’ll f—ing throw you down these stairs.”
Cuomo is the younger brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the son of the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. In an interview about a decade ago that resurfaced Tuesday, Cuomo jokingly compared himself to the less intelligent middle son of fictional Mafia don Vito Corleone in the film franchise, asking if he would be considered the Fredo of his politically powerful family.
The conservative media world was divided over the video footage, with some commentators coming to Cuomo’s defense.
Fox News host and Trump confidant Sean Hannity backed up the anchor on Tuesday, despite a long record of criticizing CNN. “I say good for @ChrisCuomo … He’s out with his 9 year old daughter, and his wife, and this guy is being a jackass in front of his family. Imho Chris Cuomo has zero to apologize for,” he argued in a tweet, adding that it was Cuomo who deserved an apology.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager and a onetime commentator on CNN, said that “too many of us have seen this happen when we are out with out famIiies [sic]. If this continues someone is going to get hurt. Have some respect. @ChrisCuomo has every right to defend himself and his family.”
But Trump took issue with the broader idea of defending the anchor, who has gained notoriety for his pointed approach to questioning Trump administration officials and supporters of the president.
“Frankly I don’t think anybody could defend him because he spews lies every night. So I don’t know why anybody would defend him — Chris Cuomo was out of control,” the president said. “I watched it, I thought it was terrible. I don’t know who’s defending him, maybe they didn’t see it, maybe they haven’t gotten the full picture.”
“I think anybody that would have seen Chris Cuomo would have said that was a disgrace,” he added. “You’ve never seen me do that.”
He continued to argue that Cuomo was getting away with an offense his conservative counterparts would not have been able to. “When a Conservative does even a fraction of what Chris Cuomo did with his lunatic ranting, raving, & cursing, they get destroyed by the Fake News,” Trump complained on Twitter late Tuesday afternoon. “But when a Liberal Democrat like Chris Cuomo does it, Republicans immediately come to his defense. We never learn!”
“I thought Chris was Fredo also,” Trump said in a tweet earlier in the day. The president, who has made pummeling CNN a regular part of is online routine, added: “The truth hurts. Totally lost it! Low ratings @CNN.”
Donald Trump Jr. suggested Monday night that Cuomo had been disingenuous in taking offense at the term. Trump Jr. retweeted a statement posted on Twitter attributed to a CNN spokesman in which the network stood by Cuomo, saying the anchor “defended himself when he was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur in an orchestrated setup. We completely support him.”
The younger Trump included a clip from Cuomo’s show earlier this year in which he shows no reaction when CNN commentator Ana Navarro-Cardenas refers to one of Trump Jr.’s siblings as “Fredo.”
“Does CNN’s head of PR still think ‘Fredo’ is an ethnic slur after watching this? Because if it’s the N word for Italians like @ChrisCuomo says, I don’t understand why Chris seems so at ease with someone saying it here,” Trump Jr. said, dismissing the defense as a “fake” excuse.
The same CNN spokesman, on a personal Twitter account, slapped back at Trump Jr., posting: “Speaking of dumb brothers. … cc: @EricTrump.”
“Heckling a public figure and secretly recording their reaction is a punk move. Conservatives applauding it in this case are hypocrites. Good for Cuomo, treating the guy exactly as he deserved to be treated,” wrote conservative blogger Matt Walsh.
Anthony Scaramucci, the flamboyant former White House communications director, also rushed to Cuomo’s defense, writing that he was “very proud” of his fellow Italian American. “This happens all the time,” he claimed. “It’s quite racist.”
Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera also stood by Cuomo on Tuesday, writing that “Chris was standing up for his family, and pride.”
Rivera also applauded his fellow conservatives standing up for the CNN anchor, arguing that media personalities needed to have each other’s backs. “Forget about which candidate the annoying little punk was supporting, he went too far. If we don’t stand up for ourselves nobody will,” he said.
But Meghan McCain, daughter of the late Sen. John McCain and a co-host on ABC’s “The View,” argued that as a man, Cuomo was not being held to the same standards a female anchor in his place would be.
“However you feel about Chris Cuomo’s behavior today, there’s not one woman in ALL of media who could be filmed in public on an obscenity filled tirade and be supported by their network and public the way he is right now,” she said in a tweet. “Men get to be tough and swear, women are ‘unhinged.’”
Cuomo weighed in later Tuesday, expressing remorse for the incident.
“Appreciate all the support but – truth is I should be better than the guys baiting me,” he said in a tweet. “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.”
The president also floated the prospect that under a so-called red-flag gun law being considered by lawmakers, Cuomo might be barred from owning a gun.
“Would Chris Cuomo be given a Red Flag for his recent rant? Filthy language and a total loss of control. He shouldn’t be allowed to have any weapon. He’s nuts!” Trump said.
He later dismissed concerns raised by a reporter who asked whether his flippant endorsement of applying such a law — which is aimed at keeping guns out of dangerous hands — undermined its political fate.
“I think Chris Cuomo was so out of control that I would not have wanted to see a weapon in his hands,” Trump responded. “I guess his fist is not a weapon or he would have done something. You know, he talked about it, but he didn’t do anything.”
Cuomo’s show was previously scheduled to be off the air for the rest of the week.