Last week, the homepage of CNN announced that ‘The story keeps getting worse for Andrew Cuomo on COVID-19.’ The story, penned by Chris Cillizza, is gripping. A top aide confessed that the New York governor’s office had ‘knowingly undercounted deaths among nursing home residents during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’. This ‘stunning admission’ is ‘a very bad look — to say the least’ for an office currently dealing with separate scrutiny over having sent 9,000 patients recovering from coronavirus back to nursing homes. This figure was 40 percent higher than reported originally, indicating that deaths aren’t the only data Cuomo and his team are lying about.
But what the CNN piece fails to mention is that the new, damning evidence about Gov. Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic isn’t anywhere near as new as it is damning.
For months, other outlets — particularly local press — hounded Cuomo about the confusing, contradictory and mysteriously absent data around nursing home cases and deaths. Why, they asked, could nearly every other state in the country manage to provide information that bedeviled New York? Until the last few days, they’ve been met with silence.
Meanwhile, CNN took a different approach: fawning praise for the governor. They breathlessly covered his daily press conferences, announcing on May 1 that he ‘may be the single most popular politician in America right now’. Cillizza authored this one too, saying Cuomo had finally stopped taking all that heat for ‘being, essentially, a terrific bureaucrat’.
In what became a near-nightly schtick, CNN lifted their own rules and allowed anchor Chris Cuomo to interview his brother the governor about how he had handled the situation. The result was — to everyone’s surprise — less than hard hitting.
CNN’s Twitter account was near-constant in its applause. There Cuomo was, accusing Trump of making claims that were ‘factually bogus’. It was rich to hear him say that other people were ‘in denial’ about the coronavirus and blame ‘government incompetence’ for what happened. CNN even shared a quote about him lamenting the nursing home crisis that he caused, as if its occurrence was totally arbitrary. They even had a melancholy sign-off from his daily briefings.
Cillizza also heaped praise on Cuomo, on Twitter and beyond. In one article, he urged readers to ‘stop what they’re doing’ and read what Cuomo had to say. He consistently shared pieces of his own and by others showering Cuomo with praise. He even suggested Cuomo might — or at least should — run for president.
CNN wasn’t alone in replacing journalism with ego worship. MSNBC, ABC, the Washington Post and countless others decided that the results of Cuomo’s policies were less important than how darn special he made us feel when he made fun of President Trump.
But the truth will out. Each day seems to bring with it a new revelation about how Cuomo and his office not only failed to keep New Yorkers safe but lied about what happened to cover their tracks.
The governor made a hamfisted attempt at damage control in his press conference yesterday. ‘The last thing I wanted to do was aggravate a terrible situation,’ he said. ‘There were people’s requests, press requests that were not answered in a timely manner.’ He did not apologize. Cuomo also said that ‘COVID did not get into the nursing homes by people coming from hospitals, COVID got into the nursing homes by staff walking into the nursing homes.’
The media — as countless journalists from places like CNN have taken great pains to remind us — has a critical role to play in speaking truth to power. Outlets including the New York Post, the AP and ProPublica set the standard in their handling of Cuomo’s deflections and deceptions.
Some haven’t. Rather than pursue the truth, the likes of CNN took a vacation from accountability when millions of their viewers needed it most. They didn’t just get the story wrong. They built a ready defense for Cuomo and his office as they continued to make poor decisions.