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The ‘Fredo’ Factor

CNN, then and now.


- August 23rd, 2019
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Back in 1983, when CNN meant Cable News Network and not “Complete Nonsense Network,” I was CNN’s very first special assignments correspondent.

So, as a former CNN guy—a 100 percent Italian-American male who speaks better Italian and better English than Chris Cuomo—I was flabbergasted that a CNN host of the same Italian-American extraction would have so little testicular fortitude as to throw a hissy fit because some stranger called him “Fredo.”

And then he whined (whined!) globally that it was an ethnic slur! Really?

As one of many Italian-Americans who’s used “Fredo” for decades as a mild putdown to suggest all manner of ineptitude, it could not have been more justly applied than describing a patently biased commentator masquerading as an anchor. 

Think of the gravitas of classic CNN anchors, Bernie Shaw, Don Harrison, or my wife Lynne Russell, compared to SOBO (Son of Brother of) Cuomo, who, if he were not the runt of a well-connected political family, would be doing late-night commercials for timeshares. 

While SOBO was still using training wheels on his tricycle, I was reporting for CNN Special Assignments jumping out of planes with Army Rangers; going solo with guerrillas into the jungles of Nicaragua for months at a time; flying, as a pilot, through the U.S. Navy’s out-of-control flight training; and other “fun” stuff. All in the name of building CNN into the best TV news outfit in the world. And that’s what we did.

Portrait of the author as a CNN special assignment correspondent. (Photo courtesy of Chuck de Caro)

At classic CNN, only “labeled commentators” got to make snarky remarks, while the entire balance of the network broadcast only double-sourced information. 

Under my then-boss Ted Kavanau, one of the four founding producers of CNN, the founder of CNN Headline News, and the head of the CNN Special Assignments Unit, I can assure you I had the fear of God when Ted would say: “Chuck, got a minute?” 

That was code for a closed-door session in his glass-framed office, where he would turn into a fire-breathing Godzilla for as small an error as not using the word “alleged” in a report more than enough times to suit him.

“This is a news organization, not a suicide pact! Now fix it!” The phrase still rings in my head.

I’ll bet you SOBO never heard that from his boss. 

Not hard to believe, when Mr. Potato Head himself, former page, “Today Show” pablum slinger, and NBC washout Jeff Zucker was never a hard-news guy. No surprise that many rank-and-file CNNers have bestowed on him the behind-his-back-moniker of “Mother.”

Given all that, a true ethnic and professional slur would be to have a stranger call me a “Chris Cuomo.”  

That would require of me an immediate response, as it would imply I was a spoiled, preening, rich-kid, no-talent with delusions of grandeur and, oh yeah, no guts when confronted by a member of the viewing public; a kind of Eddie Haskell with Mediterranean features and too much Brylcreem.

In the video of Cuomo’s recent dust up, there was the 6-foot-2 SOBO, the workout freak with 30 pounds and a good six-inch reach on the alleged heckler, and the best he could do was to proclaim himself a CNN anchor and scream expletives!  

A real Italian boy quietly would have invited the heckler outside, man-to-man, and taught him a lesson or three. Or four.

A real CNN correspondent from the glory days, proud of his network’s reputation, just would have smiled and walked away. 

Forget “Fredo.” A more appropriate and accurate Italian appellative for what Cuomo does is “merdaiolo” (“fertilizer” merchant).

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