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Reporters criticize Andrew Cuomo for lack of media access in wake of scandals

Reporters criticize Andrew Cuomo for lack of media access in wake of scandals
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Reporters are accusing New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Broadway to fully reopen in September Mets, Yankees to open vaccination sites to fans before games MORE (D) of increasingly limiting press access as allegations against him have mounted.

They say Cuomo is cutting off reporters who ask difficult questions and calling on reporters who are unlikely to ask about the investigations facing him.

In a Wednesday press conference, the governor cut off New York Law Journal reporter Ryan Tarinelli when he began to ask a follow up question after asking whether Cuomo might resign should a sexual harassment investigation find he had violated state law.

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Cuomo first said, "let’s see what the report says and then we will take it from there," and then Tarinelli's mic cut off.

Local media noted the interaction and Tarinelli confirmed the incident on Twitter that day.

Yep, I got cut off while trying to follow up on this point. https://t.co/TOena46w91

— Ryan Tarinelli (@ryantarinelli) April 21, 2021

The sexual harassment allegations Tarinelli asked about are one of many controversies Cuomo faces.

The governor has been critiqued over his handling of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes last year, for allegations he provided preferential COVID-19 testing resources for family and friends, and for allegedly using state resources to help produce a memoir chronicling his response to the pandemic.

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The interaction with Tarinelli is just one example, reporters say, of the control Cuomo’s staff is exercising over media in the wake of the scandals.

A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to questions about whether Cuomo deliberately cuts off reporters or ducks hard questions during press briefings.

But reporters say it’s obvious the governor’s press interactions have become increasingly restrictive as the scandals have mounted.

“It’s definitely something that has gotten worse,” said one reporter who works for a major national media outlet and asked to remain anonymous.

“Yes, I think that’s it,” agreed Dan Clark, the former president of the Legislative Correspondents Association and the managing editor and host of “New York NOW,” a program that covers Albany for PBS affiliate WMHT.

The switch to virtual press conferences last fall, Clark said, has allowed Cuomo’s press team to more tightly control the press briefings because Zoom makes it easier to cut off reporters like Tarinelli, limit follow-up questions, and choose which reporters are allowed to query Cuomo.

“It’s hit or miss whether you’re allowed to have more than one question,” Clark said. “Sometimes the microphone is open, and sometimes it’s off. The governor’s staff handpicks which reporters get to ask questions. And based on that, they have a sense of what questions will be about.”

The national reporter agreed. “Anybody will tell you, you can’t get a question in unless selected by the administration’s comms team,” she said. “It is very difficult to say the least.”

Often, Clark said, Cuomo’s staff tend to call on local reporters from around the state who focus on local issues.

“A Syracuse reporter, for example, will ask about the state fair being canceled,” Clark said. “Now, the state fair is a really important source of business, especially for Syracuse. But at the same time, the governor is not being asked about sexual assault.”

When asked why the Cuomo’s press briefings are still held virtually, the governor’s spokesperson referred to an exchange Cuomo had in a press conference on Monday.

“When will reporters be back in the room?” Cuomo said. “That is purely a function of the COVID-19 safety requirements. How many people can you have in a room? You know, when we do a call like this, we can get 200 reporters who are listening and calling in. If we do an event in the city, you can get 50 reporters in a small room like this easily.”

The White House holds in-person briefings while observing social distancing restrictions and capacity limits. Cuomo's office did not address comparisons.

In addition to the restrictions at press conferences, reporters have called out Cuomo for blocking the press from attending his public appearances.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo is holding an event right now that is closed to the press. Appearing alongside him is Democratic Senator @toddkaminsky and Assemblywoman @judygriffinny,” tweeted Morgan Mckay, a New York State political reporter for Spectrum News, on Thursday.

On Thursday, the Journalists Association of New York penned an op-ed that appeared in local New York papers calling on Cuomo to “restore full press access to his events and to reinstate in-person press conferences.”

Blocking the press from events is a tactic, Clark explained, a way for Cuomo to get some free noncontroversial PR.

“All politics are local. And if he shows up in Hempstead and does an event, The Long Island papers are going to cover it,” Clark said. “So people will see him there. And even though he doesn’t have to answer questions he gets to be on the news.”

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Clark predicted Cuomo's staff would punish him for speaking to The Hill. 

“Reporters and journalists who criticize [Cuomo’s] access with the press no longer get that access,” Clark said. 

“It’s a vicious cycle,” he added. “If you speak out against them or are critical of them or even tweet something they don't like, they no longer want anything to do with you.”

Cuomo's spokesperson did not respond when asked to comment on the allegation the office punishes critical reporters.