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Chris Cuomo (left) and John Cazale as Fredo Corleone from The Godfather. | Getty Images; Paramount Pictures
It’s a reference to The Godfather.
CNN journalist Chris Cuomo was caught on video last weekend exploding at someone who apparently called him “Fredo” in rather colorful language.
“Punk-ass bitches from the right call me Fredo,” Cuomo says in the video, reportedly filmed on Shelter Island in New York and uploaded to right-wing YouTube channel “That’s the Point with Brandon.” (The video has since been deleted from YouTube, but remains on Twitter.) “My name is Chris Cuomo. I’m an anchor on CNN. Fredo is from The Godfather. He was a weak brother. And they’re using it as an Italian aspersion.”
Pausing to ask if any of the onlookers are Italian, Cuomo adds, “It’s an insult to your fucking people. It’s like the n-word for us.” Then he threatens the man who apparently called him Fredo, saying he’ll “throw you down these stairs like a fucking punk.”
Cuomo is right about one thing: Fredo is, indeed, a reference to The Godfather, or more specifically to Fredo Corleone, second son of mob don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Godfather films.
In the movies, Vito (played by Marlon Brando) has three sons: Sonny (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale), and Michael (Al Pacino). Sonny is the brash and bloody one; Michael is the calculating war hero who tries to stay out of the family business but ends up running the operation. Fredo, the middle son, is the weak link, an insecure womanizer who tries to help out but keeps sticking his foot in his mouth.
In 1972’s The Godfather, Sonny takes over the family operation after an assassination attempt on his father, but he is eventually assassinated himself, after which Vito chooses Michael — not Fredo — to run the family. Given that Michael is the youngest, and given Fredo’s insecurity, this creates a rift between the two brothers.
In The Godfather: Part II, a frustrated Fredo tries to make a power play by colluding with Johnny Ola (a rival gangster) and winds up inadvertently giving him information that helps Ola’s plot to off Michael. He later tells Michael he’s never met Ola, and then royally self-owns when he blurts out to someone else that he did meet Ola.
It probably goes without saying that Fredo doesn’t last long after that. Michael sees to it.
But Cuomo is being disingenuous at best when he says that Fredo is an insult that’s equivalent to the n-word. (In a statement of support for Cuomo, CNN also characterized the name as an “ethnic slur.”) The latter term has a lengthy and well-trod history as a racist insult, an unambiguous pejorative against black people when used by non-black people. The former is a reference to a pop cultural character from books published in the 1960s and movie adaptations produced the following decade. One is a degrading slur meant to dehumanize the target; the other is a metaphor with unflattering connotations.
That Cuomo took umbrage at the name, though, is not all that surprising. Chris Cuomo is one of three children of the late Mario Cuomo, who was governor of New York from 1983 to 1994. His brother, Andrew Cuomo, has been governor of New York since 2011. Cuomo is a cable news personality with his own show, Cuomo Prime Time, on CNN. The potential implications of the name aren’t good — though they may be complicated by the fact that Cuomo referred to himself as Fredo in a radio interview in 2010.
Meanwhile, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci tweeted his support for Cuomo, while the Trumps went to Twitter to weigh in as well. Donald Trump Jr. — whom the White House staff had taken to calling “Fredo” behind his back in 2017 — posted a message to Cuomo that’s either self-deprecating or clueless:
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) August 13, 2019
And of course, the president, who loves a derogatory nickname, especially when applied to someone who works in media, was delighted:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
Meanwhile, Cuomo apologized for the outburst on Tuesday after the video went viral.
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
Cuomo’s CNN show, Cuomo Prime Time, was already on a previously scheduled weeklong hiatus when the video went viral, but is scheduled to return to CNN on Monday, August 19.
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