Cuomo’s fall from grace should be a wake up call for the media that pumped him up during the pandemic

Andrew Cuomo resign billboard
A billboard urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign is seen near downtown on March 2, 2021 in Albany, New York. Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images
  • Cuomo was never a COVID hero, it was always a media-created myth.
  • His bullying, lying, and attempts at a cover up were always in plain sight.
  • The media needs to remember elected officials work for the people. Our job’s to keep them honest
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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To all of the pundits and cable news hosts belatedly waking up to the reality of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bungled pandemic response, welcome.

As I’ve been saying since April 2020, in the midst of Cuomomania, the evidence that the New York governor’s handling of the COVID crisis wasn’t all that great was always right in front of our faces. 

There was also ample evidence that Cuomo was engaging in a cover up of his culpability in thousands of COVID nursing home deaths. 

Better late than never, but now the scales have fallen from the public’s eyes. Hell, even the milquetoast sketch comedians at Saturday Night Live are finally taking shots at their home state governor.

The wheels started coming off the Cuomomobile in January. But we now know Cuomo’s top aides manipulated the state health department’s self-audit to cut the number of nursing home deaths in half, in an attempt to shift blame away from the governor’s order. 

This reportedly happened just as Cuomo was about to write his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

That’s a breathtaking level of cynicism and narcissism for an elected official presiding over the most COVID-devastated state in the country, barely four months into the pandemic. 

And as The New York Times put it, it’s demonstrative of the lengths Cuomo went “to control data, brush aside public health expertise and bolster his position as a national leader in the fight against the coronavirus.”

These are shocking revelations, but only if you hadn’t paid attention to how Cuomo treated anyone who dared to ask for greater transparency over the past year – which is to say he’d berate, slander, and dismiss any inquisitors outright. 

Now that it’s all come crashing down for the Emmy-winning three-term governor, it’s worth looking back on how a complacent media not only aided and abetted a political fraud, but created a hero myth built on the shallowest of pretenses. 

Cuomo’s pettiness caused needless suffering

Contrary to popular belief, Cuomo was not a model of leadership at the start of the pandemic almost exactly a year ago. In fact, he irresponsibly downplayed the threat of the virus despite mounting evidence that a true threat was imminent. 

He also created needless confusion to spite his nemesis, the feckless New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, when the governor characterized the mayor as “psychotic” for telling the public to prepare for a stay at home order. 

That was on March 17, 2020, six days after the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. Cuomo put the entire state on “pause” just three days later. 

Cuomo continued to let his petty rivalry with De Blasio leave millions of New Yorkers fielding mixed messages about what to do to stop the spread of the coronavirus, or when schools would open or close.

That same month, Cuomo ordered nursing homes to accept COVID positive patients to free up desperately-needed hospital beds. 

The governor’s fateful decision undoubtedly contributed to the roughly 15,000 COVID deaths in New York nursing homes. Yet for most of 2020, media outlets generally let Cuomo get away with his flippant dismissals of anyone asking for data transparency – be they journalists, activists, or family members of the dead – as being a right-wing hack. 

No reasonable person can argue that Cuomo intended to facilitate the untimely death of thousands of seniors. The tragedy was almost certainly the result of “pandemic fog” – where information was scarce and guidance from the comatose-at-the-wheel Trump administration was non-existent

It was that void of leadership that made Cuomo a star. 

Simply by being able to give competent press conferences during the most frightening early COVID days was enough for mainstream news outlets, pundits, and celebrities to slather the governor with hero worship.

To some extent, I understand. 

I’m a New Yorker who lives about a mile from the epicenter of the “first wave.” It was an absolutely terrifying time, and we all felt helpless. It’s only natural that people looked for a leader. 

But that was a long time ago, and Cuomo’s largely avoided substantive media scrutiny until very recently, despite displaying abjectly despicable behavior throughout the past year. 

Cuomo the bully was always there in plain sight, if you cared enough to recognize him

Cuomo’s nursing home order was a mistake, which isn’t an impeachable offense. 

But no rational observer can argue that over the past year Cuomo didn’t lie, bully, and preside over unethical accounting chicanery to cover up that mistake. And those are impeachable offenses. 

At one point, Cuomo even denied that his nursing home order happened at all. That’s how comfortable he was that the media wouldn’t hold his feet to the fire. 

This all happened in plain sight.

When straight news reporters asked the governor questions he’d rather not answer, he’d belittle them as beneath his intelligence or accuse them of being tools of a vast right-wing conspiracy

When fellow Democrats called for an independent investigation after Cuomo’s administration cleared itself of any responsibility for the nursing home tragedy, he simply ignored them, as did most of the media. 

It was only when Assemblyman Ron Kim, a fellow Democrat, said Cuomo called him at his home and threatened to “destroy” him if he didn’t do what the governor demanded that “Cuomo the hero” started to be portrayed in the press as “Cuomo the thug.” 

And now that the governor’s been accused by three women – including two of his former aides – of sexual harassment, a perfect storm of scandal has created a new media narrative, which is: “Everyone’s known for years that Andrew Cuomo is a total prick.”

The mea culpas are coming fast and furious from the erstwhile “Cuomosexuals.” 

I don’t mean to be excessively critical of my colleagues in the media. We all get it wrong sometimes. 

But if there’s any greater lesson to be learned from the rise and fall of Andrew Cuomo, media-created hero, it’s to not make politicians into heroes. 

That isn’t to say we should be reflexively combative with lawmakers, just that we should never treat them as infallible, pure-of-heart vanguards. 

Cuomo, like all elected officials, works for the people. Our job in journalism is to keep them honest

Otherwise, we’re just PR flaks for the powerful.