The Corner

Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Endured Because the Watchdogs Averted Their Eyes

Andrew (left) and Chris Cuomo (Mike Segar/Reuters)

If you feel some sense of satisfaction in Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, great. As the editors declare, his departure from power “is a salutary act of political hygiene.”

But this whole sordid saga does feel sad – not because Cuomo did a hell of a job, as President Biden insists – but because the consequences for Andrew Cuomo’s egregious behavior took so long to catch up with him. A slew of institutions that were supposed to be watchdogs and opponents of bullies ended up enabling, excusing, and defending Cuomo’s worst impulses. The “system” failed, time and again.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones wrote yesterday, “As he spoke to the press, Cuomo himself sounded surprised at the turn of events—perhaps that’s because the reality of who he was was in plain sight for such a long time.  For years the kind of domineering behavior that precipitated Cuomo’s downfall was misconstrued—or cynically spun—by many allies in the Democratic Party and in the press as effectiveness.”

If Cuomo was always a petty and abusive tyrant in plain sight… where the hell was everyone who claims to stand up for the powerless?

Why were so many state legislators afraid to stand up to Cuomo? Why did the U.S. Department of Justice just shrug off Cuomo calling up the White House and raging about a U.S. Attorney investigating him? Why was the most monstrous governor in America the most wildly celebrated and frequently welcomed CNN guest since… er… Michael Avenatti?

If Cuomo had leveled with public about his decisions involving nursing homes and the virus from beginning, we might be less angry about it. “We were so afraid of overcrowded hospitals that we enacted policy that was the wrong call, a decision spread the virus among more seniors.” Cuomo underestimated the risks, gambled, and lost. Instead, Cuomo always insisted his decision was the right one – even after “court orders, leaks, and investigations revealed that Cuomo dramatically and intentionally understated the pandemic’s toll on nursing home residents in New York.”

We could have avoided this mess, at least in part, if more national media institutions had looked more skeptically at his state’s handling of pandemic. As of this morning, with COVID-19 having attacked Americans from coast to coast for more than 18 months, New York still ranks second in the country in deaths per million residents, at 2,793. (New Jersey continues to lead at 3,001 per million residents, meaning COVID-19 killed one out of every 333 New Jersey residents. How did Phil Murphy’s management of this crisis get so little national scrutiny?)

We would be in a better state today if CNN executives had recognized the glaring conflict of interest their early pandemic programming – and I wish other big media institutions had called them out on it, instead of celebrating it. We would be in a better state today if CNN had maintained their pre-pandemic policies, that they were happy to interview the governor on air with any other anchor or reporter, but not his brother.

We would be in a better state today if the moment CNN learned Chris Cuomo was consulting with his brother, they took serious action, to make clear anchors can’t be part of a governor’s communication strategy team.

We would be in a better state today if Penguin Random House had realized that $5 million was far too much for a book by the governor, and that publishing a book about Cuomo’s leadership during the pandemic while the pandemic was going on was a bad idea.

The story of Andrew Cuomo really is like that of Harvey Weinstein – apparently, almost everyone who interacted with him knew what was going on, but almost everyone feared his power and didn’t want to risk their careers by standing up to the bully. A lot of people who think of themselves as brave, and independent, and righteous proved quiet and cowardly when it counted the most.

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