On August 12, a video appeared showing CNN anchor Chris Cuomo become furious when another patron in the Staten Island establishment both were frequenting called him “Fredo.” Insisting he is not Fredo, Cuomo, the brother of current New York governor Andrew and son of former New York governor Mario, then unleashed a barrage of profanities at his interlocutor, and even loomed close to his face and threatened to throw him down a flight of stairs. Most incensively, he said that to Italians, “Fredo” is like the “N-word.”
First, a bit of background may be in order for those who need some brushing up on their Fredology: the reference is to Alfredo “Fredo” Corleone, a fictional character in the 1972 film The Godfather, based on the eponymous novel by Mario Puzo. (Full disclosure: that is my favorite film of all time, and so writing about politics and The Godfather in the same column is an absolute treat; I ask that you please indulge me.)
The Godfather centers around mafia don Vito Corleone, who heads the Corleone crime family, and whose own nuclear family includes eldest son Santino (“Sonny”), the aforementioned Fredo, and youngest son, Michael. Don Vito also has an adopted son, Tom Hagen, who eventually serves as the crime family’s consigliere (counselor). The roles of Vito, Sonny, Fredo, Michael, and Tom were played by Marlon Brando, James Caan, John Cazale, Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall, respectively.
The film won the Oscar for Best Picture that year, with Brando winning that award for Best Actor. (For anyone reading his column who actually hasn’t seen that movie, spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal some of the plot): surviving a nearly fatal assassination attempt, the aging Vito ponders which son would succeed him as head of the crime family. Sonny, a charismatic, alpha-male hothead, is the obvious heir apparent, but he is soon eliminated from contention, and from life, in a bloody hit at the Jones Beach Causeway.
Tom, not in the muscle end of the family and not a “wartime consigliere,” remains the family’s attorney. Vito then turns to Michael, the brooding, strategizing, soft-spoken ex-Marine, who wanted nothing to do with the family business. Vito shunned Michael’s older brother Fredo, whom Michael succinctly described in the film’s sequel, The Godfather, Part II, as “weak” and “stupid.”
In the first film, Fredo tries to protect his father from his would-be killers, but drops his gun. In the sequel, he asks Michael, during calmer moments, “how do you say Banana Daiquiri in Spanish?” At the film’s end in a flashback, the brothers and friends gather to celebrate Vito’s birthday (apparently December 7), as news broke of the bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941). Sonny lamented at their nerve, for doing that “on pop’s birthday,” to which Fredo responded, prompting laughter in the room: “they didn’t know it was pop’s birthday.”
That, then, sums up Fredo’s dimwittedness, rendering the label “Fredo” insulting. Worse yet, in Part II, Fredo is (presumably inadvertently) responsible for an assassination attempt on Michael, and when the latter finds out, he eventually has his own brother murdered. Fans of the films thus see Fredo not only as a buffoon, but a backstabbing buffoon at that.
But there’s more to Fredo than this overgeneralization. “He’s so sweet,” says younger sister Connie (played by Talia Shire) in the sequel. And sweet he is. Fredo’s not a stone-cold killer. He doesn’t have the killer instinct. Unfortunately, that is perceived as more of a negative than a positive in our oft-winner-take-all society.
Fredo just wants some respect. “I’m your older brother, and I was passed over!” he complains to Michael in the sequel, after insisting he didn’t know his betrayal of his kid brother would serve as an assassination plot. Earlier in that film, Fredo’s drunken wife, Deanna, makes a fool of herself on the dance floor. “I ought to belt you right in the mouth,” he tells her. “You couldn’t belt your mamma!” she taunts him back. And she’s right. Fredo is not violent. Fredo never would have threatened to throw someone down a flight of stairs, like Chris Cuomo did.
In the weeks before Michael eventually has Fredo killed, Fredo spends a lot of time fishing with Michael’s son, Anthony. It would appear Fredo was the best uncle among the Corelone children too. Back to Cuomo. Apparently, the heckler hit a sore spot, as Cuomo is ridiculed by conservative talk show icon Rush Limbaugh, who often calls Cuomo “Fredo” on his radio show. Being an anchor – even for a once-great now embarrassing network like CNN – is no small potatoes (to borrow a line from Hyman Roth [Lee Strasberg] also from Part II). But it pales in comparison to being governor of a major state, like father Mario and brother Andrew.
Here’s where it gets quite hypocritical – sadly, that is a CNN trademark these days – because on Cuomo’s own show, numerous guests have called various Republicans “Fredo” – including one who said that about Donald Trump, Jr. after the Fredo incident in Staten Island, and Cuomo did not condemn the comment.
The following is an exchange which reveals just how contemptible Cuomo is, between him and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Korbach: Cuomo: What if Trump said “I am a racist?”
Korbach: I would not defend him. Cuomo: Would you still support him as president? Korbach: (pause) Cuomo (in raised voice): You have to think about it? You have to think about whether you would support a racist?”
Obviously, Cuomo had preplanned that sneak-attack, catching the unsuspecting Korbach off guard. (How silly of Korbach to assume he would get a fair shake on such a “respected” network.) Perhaps if Korbach had time, he could have responded: “Well, Chris, if your house was on fire and a firefighter came in to try to save you and your family, and that firefighter was a racist, would you still support his efforts to save all of you?” And the irony is not lost on me that Cuomo, the purported champion of anti-racism, has the audacity to compare the term “Fredo” with the “N-word.” Where is the outrage from the politically overcorrect left?
Many conservatives rushed to Cuomo’s defense, on the grounds that he was out with his wife and young daughter, and he had every right to stand his ground to a heckler. Maybe they’ve had it happen to them on numerous occasions, and they can empathize. Fair enough. But Cuomo has hit our president below the belt in the pettiest of ways on so many occasions, that I find it difficult to sympathize with him, especially when the offense in question is being compared to a fictional character from a 47-year-old film.
Maybe the real Fredo wouldn’t have been so cruel and heartless toward president Trump and the man in that Staten Island bar. Perhaps he didn’t have the brains, or the guts. More likely, he had too good of a heart.
It is fitting to close with this ironic bit of trivia: the Cuomo/Fredo story was on the news everywhere on August 13, which would have been the late John Cazale’s 84th birthday. If I had known in time, I might have sent Cuomo a card stating: “Happy birthday, Fredo!”