Despite the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences rescinding Andrew Cuomo’s Emmy award, we won’t forget the inordinate praise he received for his daily COVID briefings. They awarded him an Emmy for “his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.”
A wistful retrospective from the Associated Press in June 2020 titled “100 Days of Cuomo” described the New York governor’s briefings as “appointment viewing around the nation.” It said that Cuomo “provided glimpses of his humanity through 110 briefings with reporters.” It praised his performances in glowing terms: “On any given day, he would fret over the safety of his 88-year-old mother, expound on the grittiness of New Yorkers, get misty-eyed over the gift of a single mask, defend charges he locked down the state too late, chide young people for not wearing masks, or grieve over daily death tolls that climbed as high as 800.”
An October 2020 Forbes article used Cuomo’s example as a lesson in crisis communication. “The communication lessons that Cuomo learned . . . will help any leader or aspiring leader navigate teams through a crisis,” it said. It praised the consistency of his briefings, which were at 11:30 a.m. every day. It also praised his effort in crafting the presentations and his authentic emotion.
That was for the pandemic, a crisis that, as Charlie pointed out today, politicians have limited ability to do anything about. The virus is invisible, it came from another country, it requires voluntary action throughout the whole population, and above all, its spread is governed by biology, not politics. Further, the virus is and has always been a respiratory illness with a certain set of symptoms and a certain set of available policy responses (masks, social distancing, travel restrictions, and now vaccines). Things change, and we have learned new information over the course of the pandemic, but the basic facts of the virus do not change day-to-day.
Contrast this with the situation in Afghanistan, where things change by the hour. Reporters on the ground are constantly giving updates, which unavoidably might contradict each other, and Americans are left wondering what is really going on. It’s a situation involving a discrete policy decision made by President Biden, the decision to withdraw by August 31, and it involves the military, over which Biden is commander in chief. American lives are at risk at the hands of a number of different terrorist groups, and Afghan allies are under threat of near-certain execution by the Taliban.
In the eleven days since the fall of Kabul on August 15, President Biden has spoken directly to the American people about Afghanistan four times (on August 16, August 20, August 22, and August 24). Only two of those were solely about Afghanistan (his August 22 remarks were also about tropical storm Henri, and his August 24 remarks were also about his domestic agenda).
If there were ever a time that regular, daily briefings from the chief executive would be welcome, it would be now. If they were appropriate for Cuomo to inform and comfort an unsure people about the pandemic, they are certainly appropriate for Biden now. Biden is directly responsible for this withdrawal, and the American people deserve to hear straight from him on its status.