The arbitration claim filed Wednesday by former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo is a remarkable document for a number of reasons. There is, for starters, the headline number—Cuomo is seeking a whopping $125 million after he was fired for helping his brother, former Governor Andrew Cuomo, to fend off a sexual harassment scandal. According to his lawyers, the nine-figure damages claim would cover not just the $15 million in salary and ratings bonuses that Cuomo was owed for the 19 months remaining on his contract when he was fired, but also the “decades” of earnings that Cuomo presumably would have made, if not for “CNN’s calculated efforts to tar and feather him.”
Even more remarkable is the Cuomo claim that CNN “violated the express terms of his employment agreement by allowing its employees”—former colleagues like Jake Tapper, Don Lemon, and Brian Stelter—“to disparage him.” By this strained logic, one presumes, CNN was contractually obligated not to report on one of the biggest media stories in years. It was CNN’s investigation into Cuomo, after all, that also led to the resignation of the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, and the appointment of new leadership across the news division.
Yet one of the most bizarre wrinkles in the matter pertains not to Cuomo’s former coiffured hosts, but rather to Michael Jackson, of all people. Almost exactly three years ago, HBO aired a documentary, Leaving Neverland, about alleged child sex abuse by the late singer. That drew a lawsuit from Jackson’s heirs, who claimed the film violated a non-disparagement clause in a three-decade-old agreement, one that provided the prestige television service with the rights to air a televised concert following the release of Jackson’s 1991 album, Dangerous.