fathers and sons

The Chris Cuomo ‘Fredo’ Controversy, Explained

Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

If you are on the internet today you may be wondering who Chris Cuomo is, what he has to do with someone called “Fredo,” and where your life took a wrong turn. Never fear. I am going to answer at least two of those questions for you now.

Why was Chris Cuomo mad?

On Tuesday, video surfaced of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo losing it after some guy (reportedly a Trump supporter) called him as “Fredo” on Sunday, in a reference to a character from the Godfather series. In the footage Cuomo screams that “Fredo” is “an Italian aspersion … It’s an insult to your people. It’s like the N-word to us.”

Cuomo, who is of Italian heritage, goes on to say, “I’ll fucking ruin your shit. I’ll fucking throw you down these stairs like a fucking punk.”

And how did this meltdown go over?

After the clip was first posted on Twitter, Cuomo became the subject of generalized roasting — both from those on the left, who found the characterization “like the N-word to us” offensive and patently ridiculous, and from the Trump family, never one to shy away from a Twitter fight.

“Take it from me,” wrote Donald Trump, Jr., “‘Fredo’ isn’t the N word for Italians, it just means you’re the dumb brother.”

And Trump, Sr., took a moment of his busy day to write that he “thought Chris was Fredo also,” adding, “The truth hurts!”

Meanwhile, CNN is standing by both Chris Cuomo and his bizarre claim that “Fredo” is an incredibly offensive racial slur. CNN president of communications Matt Dornic tweeted on Tuesday, “Chris Cuomo defended himself when he was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur in an orchestrated setup. We completely support him.”

Nevertheless on Tuesday morning Cuomo did indeed apologize for his behavior, tweeting “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.”

Okay. So … what is a ‘Fredo’ anyway?

“Fredo” is a prominent character in several of The Godfather movies. He’s the older brother of Michael Corleone, the intelligent, charismatic, and ruthless Italian-American mob leader. Unable to stomach his relative lack of charm, brains, and personal accomplishment, Fredo ultimately betrays his brother, hastening his own death; as such, the term “Fredo” has become a cultural short-hand for “incompetent, cowardly, large adult son.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Donald Trump, Jr. has been on the receiving end of this aspersion himself. (As the brother and son and men who have governed the state of New York — Andrew and Mario Cuomo, respectively — Chris Cuomo is arguably similarly cast in the shadow of his family, despite a thriving TV yelling career of his own.)

Cuomo himself may have put it most succinctly when he said, very irately, in the video: “Fredo is from The Godfather. He was the weak brother.”

So from whence comes the idea that this popular movie reference is an anti-Italian slur? Unclear! It is perhaps worth noting that Cuomo’s father, the late Mario Cuomo, was an ardent critic of The Godfather books and films, boycotting them for decades because he thought they depicted negative stereotypes of Italian Americans. After he finally saw The Godfather, in 2013, he begrudgingly told the New York Times, “Maybe this thing was a masterpiece.”

And there you have it: the first public Trump-era meltdown over the derivation and application of a disparaging Godfather reference. One can only hope it will be the last.

The Chris Cuomo ‘Fredo’ Controversy, Explained