By:
August 4, 2021

The media coverage of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the past year and a half has been like a rollercoaster ride: up, down, twisting and turning.

A year ago, he was breathlessly described by some as “America’s Governor.” He gave daily COVID-19 updates that were aired nationwide on cable news networks such as CNN and MSNBC. His straight talk about the coronavirus was applauded, especially when compared to the messages coming out of Donald Trump’s White House. In fact, speaking of presidents, there were even whispers that Cuomo might someday trade in the title of governor for president or that he would go work for President Joe Biden.

Cuomo would go on the CNN show hosted by his brother, Chris, and the two would yuk it up. And the governor was given a pretty big microphone to share his response to the pandemic.

The news then turned to a scandal about how Cuomo and his office were reporting nursing home deaths due to COVID-19.

Then stories that Gov. Cuomo had sexually harassed women with inappropriate touching and comments came to light. Accusers came forward. And not just one or two. The New York Times and Times Union of Albany published blockbuster reports about Cuomo’s behavior.

That all led to Tuesday’s explosive report from New York state Attorney General Letitia James. The 165-page report included interviews with 179 people and determined that Cuomo had harassed multiple women, including current and former staffers, from 2013 to 2020. The report also stated that Cuomo and his aides, through intimidation and other tactics, helped enable “harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment.” (Here is the entire attorney general’s report.)

Cuomo put out a defiant video response in which he said he never touched anyone inappropriately and that on occasions when he did touch someone’s face or kissed them, it was a sign of affection learned in his upbringing. He said it was meant to “convey warmth, nothing more.”

Cuomo’s speech sounded like a campaign speech, and certainly nowhere close to being a precursor to a possible resignation.

Bizarrely, while Cuomo was talking, a slideshow of Cuomo touching and kissing various people (and photos of his mom and dad kissing him) was shown. Who put that thing together?

Nothing Cuomo said in his video played well in most media circles. Cuomo has gone from media darling to media outcast.

And a political outcast, too. Even President Biden said Tuesday that Cuomo should resign.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote a column with the headline: “35 words that almost certainly will end Andrew Cuomo’s political career.”

Those 35 words?

“We, the investigators appointed to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, conclude that the Governor engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York State law.”

Cillizza wrote, “The last six years in politics have taught me — and should teach all of us — not to make any definitive predictions about how the public will react to allegations of this sort against a politician. But it’s extremely hard to see any sort of path — today at least — for Cuomo to stay in office beyond 2022. If he even makes it that long.”

Twitter media reaction

Here are just some of the media tweets that I found interesting from Tuesday’s Cuomo news and his subsequent video response.

Regarding the attorney general’s news conference, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted, “This press conference and the report are way, way, way more detailed and damning that many in press and among Dem operatives expected.”

About Cuomo’s response, New York Times national political correspondent Alex Burns tweeted: “who are you going to believe, me or a 168-page report by multiple highly experienced investigators who interviewed 179 people.”

Washington Post White House bureau chief Ashley Parker tweeted, “‘I do it with everyone,’ is an interesting defense of sexually inappropriate behavior.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza tweeted, “Anyone who knows Andrew Cuomo knows he is not the resigning sort. But this video statement is not helping him make the case he can survive this. Like, at all.”

HuffPost Washington bureau chief Amanda Terkel tweeted, “So Cuomo, instead of apologizing or resigning, is holding himself up as a champion of women who have been victims of sexual harassment and assault. Unreal.”

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump tweeted, “Everything about this often-cringey statement suggests that Cuomo thinks this is survivable.”

CNN’s S.E. Cupp tweeted, “That was, to put it politely, a master class in sociopathic gaslighting by Cuomo: You didn’t see what you saw. You are confused and biased. It’s YOU who have explaining to do. I was actually HELPING these people. My lack of accountability proves I’m doing my job right.”

Powerful interview

“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell had an exclusive interview Tuesday evening with Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Cuomo. The New York attorney general found Bennett’s claims of being sexually harassed by Cuomo to be credible. Bennett said Cuomo had asked her questions about being a survivor of sexual assault.

During the interview Tuesday, O’Donnell asked Bennett, “The governor admitted that he asked you questions that he doesn’t normally ask people because you told him you’re a survivor of sexual assault. Do you think he’s gaslighting you?”

Bennett said, “Absolutely. He’s trying to justify himself by making him out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship, and I think that’s absolutely absurd. We have the report. We have the facts. The governor broke federal and state law when he sexually harassed me, and current and former staffers, and we have a responsibility to take the set of facts. And if he’s not willing to step down, then we have a responsibility to act and impeach him.”

CNN’s big problem

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother, CNN’s Chris Cuomo. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor of Andrew M. Cuomo via AP, left, and Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Once again, CNN is facing uncomfortable questions about prime-time host Chris Cuomo in the wake of all the news involving his brother. The problem is that Chris admittedly was part of the team that advised Andrew when the allegations were going public. And while CNN said at the time that his actions were “inappropriate” and he apologized, Chris was not disciplined.

Chris said back in May that he was going to recuse himself from covering his brother and this story, and so it was no surprise (although certainly awkward) that he didn’t address the story on his show Tuesday night. But recusing himself now and back in May doesn’t erase the knowledge that he helped advise his brother against allegations that the New York attorney general now says are credible. In fact, Chris’ name came up in the attorney general’s report.

Here’s exactly what I wrote back when this story first came to light: “We’re talking about serious allegations of sexual harassment. How do staffers at CNN — especially women — feel about a powerful employee trying to help someone, even if it is his brother, defuse and overcome allegations of disturbing sexual misbehavior? How do the women who made these allegations feel about a high-profile cable news network personality trying to help the man accused of such awful things? How about the citizens of New York?”

And I will now add: how about CNN viewers?

This isn’t blaming Chris for Andrew’s actions. This is blaming Chris for Chris’ actions. Advising his brother is something that is going to be hard to forget, especially when Chris is reporting on similar accusations against other public figures.

One unnamed CNN staffer told BuzzFeed News’ Julia Reinstein, “I think that, as journalists, it’s our responsibility to act in the most responsible possible way, not only to maintain journalistic integrity, but also for the public to regain trust in journalism and television news. And the fact that Chris Cuomo wasn’t fired over his inappropriate conflict of interest in actively affecting a news story is not only irresponsible of CNN, but also a disgrace to journalism.”

Splitting the coverage

Very few things are a big enough deal to interrupt NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. In fact, last week, NBC stuck with its Olympic coverage when the other cable news and major networks carried the opening congressional hearing into the Jan. 6 insurrection. (It did air on MSNBC.)

But, on Tuesday, NBC used a split screen with the Olympics on one half and the Cuomo story on the other side.

Proving vaccination

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers remarks on Tuesday that New York City will soon require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for anyone who wants to dine indoors at a restaurant, see a performance or go to the gym. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The other big news out of New York on Tuesday was the announcement that New York City will become the first U.S. city to require proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot to be able to go indoors to restaurants, gyms and performances. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the program will start Aug. 16 and enforcement will begin Sept. 13.

This could be the first of many cities — partly in an effort to get more people vaccinated — to ask people to prove they have been vaccinated.

Here is a valuable and smart piece of journalism that will help as we all move forward: In The Washington Post, Chris Velazco and Geoffrey A. Fowler wrote, “You’re going to be asked to prove your vaccination status. Here’s how to do it.”

President Biden gave a national COVID-19 update on Tuesday afternoon and encouraged the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. “People are dying and will die who don’t have to die,” Biden said. “The data is absolutely clear. As I’ve said, we have a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Biden also announced several initiatives, including sharing vaccines with other countries.

ABC and CBS and the cable news networks (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) all carried Biden’s remarks live. NBC, however, stuck with the Olympics, even though it was airing tape-delayed coverage of the USA men’s basketball team playing Spain. But, as I said, MSNBC carried Biden’s address.

Return to work

According to this tweet from Washington Post media reporter Elahe Izadi, The Washington Post has pushed back its return to the office for employees from Sept. 13 to Oct. 18. As Izadi notes, NPR has pushed its date back to Oct. 17 and The New York Times is out “indefinitely.”

No, it’s not a real headline

This week, a screenshot of a false New York Times headline was circulating on social media. The not-real headline said, “Even if the election was stolen, recalling it will just further divide the country.”

On Tuesday, The New York Times put out a statement that said, “We are aware of a manipulated headline circulating online. The New York Times did not write or publish the headline in that screenshot.”

Reuters’ fact-checking team delved more into this story.

Simone Biles returns in style

Simone Biles finishes on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women’s apparatus final at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

American gymnast Simone Biles, who sat out much of the Olympics to focus on her mental wellness, returned for one final event Tuesday and took the bronze medal in the balance beam.

Here are some notable pieces about Biles:

In fact, this passage from Svrluga is worth emphasizing: “It’s amazing how, over a week without competing, Biles has helped shift the athletic conversation to a place where it should have been all along. Not long ago, performing ‘for me and me only’ would have sounded selfish. Now, in a certain context — in this context — it sounds healthy. Forget about the five medals from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the skills no one else would or could perform, that made her a darling leading into these Games. She broke down. She admitted it. She got help. And here she was.”

Simply too big

MSNBC is celebrating its 25th anniversary by publishing 25 days of essays from anchors, hosts and correspondents. The latest is from “MTP Daily” moderator Chuck Todd, who wrote, “America’s two major political parties are simply too big.”

Todd writes, “The bottom line is this: Today’s two major political parties are simply too big. These monopolies do more to crush potential competition (in the idea space) than they do to empower those looking for more representation. So, as we debate how to improve our democracy, let’s not overlook how much the two political parties — as they are currently structured — actually stand in the way of the changes many members of all parties would like to see.”

The essays, called The Next 25, also feature writings from Hallie Jackson, Ayman Mohyeldin, Andrea Mitchell, Rev. Al Sharpton, Joshua Johnson and more.

Media tidbits

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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