Media’s gushing promotion of Gov. Cuomo looks pretty bad now


Sputnik International is the state-run news agency of the Russian government. One of its key functions is to make Russian strongman Vladimir Putin look good. The American free press, however — protected by the First Amendment — was designed for journalists to independently challenge political leaders and hold them accountable. America’s media should not be in the business of promoting any government official. It should be sufficient to report relevant and newsworthy facts as clearly as possible and let the citizenry make its own judgements about the performance of public servants.

That vision of journalism was largely missing during the exuberant coverage of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the pandemic.

Media credibility is now taking a hit in the wake of revelations that the Cuomo administration distorted and withheld data about nursing home deaths in New York. That’s what happens when members of the press curl up comfortably as lapdogs instead of being aggressive watchdogs. That Cuomo is finally now getting some scrutiny hardly excuses months of cuddly coverage.

Lack of press accountability for public officials has its consequences. Free-reining politicians get puffed up by flattering press accounts. They get drunk with ego and power and are encouraged to engage in even more audacious acts of authority.

Too many in the press played cheerleader for Cuomo throughout the COVID pandemic. His carefully staged daily televised press conference dramas were scripted by Cuomo’s handlers for maximum effect. Too many in the media played along, with wall-to-wall coverage and softball questions. Did it never occur to many of these reporters that the pressers were grand public relations events designed, in part, to turn cooperative reporters into influencers working on behalf of a political initiative?

Sociopolitical observer G.K. Chesterton commented a century ago, “Precisely because political speeches are meant to be reported, they are not worth reporting.” Chesterton’s whimsical observation should have been considered by the news outlets hyping Cuomo’s public proclamations for months on end.

The predominant media narrative was that Cuomo was the leader the nation needed during the crisis. He was the empathetic leader worrying about everybody’s grandmother, a stark contrast to the uncaring Trump, who, the accepted narrative reported, was callously letting people die. Cuomo bubble-wrapped himself in “science,” rationalizing any decision he made by saying he was “following the science.” He was lauded as honest, direct and brave and conveying incredible strength.

CNN broke long-established conflict-of-interest standards for journalism by allowing the governor’s brother, Chris Cuomo, to do frequent on-air interviews with governor. Those interviews provided more melodrama, family banter and comedic routines than real news.

Gov. Cuomo received an International Emmy Founders Award for his daily televised briefings. Emmy Academy President Bruce Paisner said in a statement that Cuomo “effectively created television shows, with characters, and plot lines, and stories of success and failure.” Sounds more like praise for a prime time drama.

Cuomo even published a book about COVID leadership lessons, released last October, while the pandemic still was running its deadly course. Looking back now, that book comes off as an NFL quarterback popping celebratory champagne corks at halftime of a midseason game in which his team is losing.

Turns out that Cuomo was wrong on several fronts, including the number of hospital beds and ventilators his state needed. He was wrong on the decision to send COVID-infected patients back into nursing homes. The recent revelations about nursing home deaths shows he was even more wrong than previously known. He overstepped his authority in restricting church attendance and lost in the Supreme Court of the United States. History at some point will weigh in on decisions regarding shutting down businesses and schools.

Ultimately, Gov. Cuomo all along was just doing what politicians do: seeking rhetorical opportunity for self-promotion and spin.

The American public expects — and generally understands — that.

What the public doesn’t understand is an independent press getting snookered by political machinery and running interference for government officials whom the press should instead be holding accountable.

Rather than serving as surrogates for the public, as they should, agenda-driven members of the press corps tried to create a COVID hero and sell him to the nation. That sale now qualifies for the lemon laws. A subservient press never serves the interests of the public, as has been proven for decades in nations with state-run news operations.

Jeffrey McCall is a media critic and professor of communication at DePauw University. He has worked as a radio news director, a newspaper reporter and as a political media consultant. Follow him on Twitter @Prof_McCall.

Tags Andrew Cuomo broadcast media Chris Cuomo CNN cover up Cuomo scandal government watchdogs Mainstream news media Media bias media coverage New York nursing home deaths US news media Vladimir Putin Watchdog journalism

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