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Media Try But Fail To Learn From Their Romance With Cuomo

Revoking Cuomo’s Emmy, amid facile self-reproach, is hardly a substitute for unpacking the bigger facts of what the recently resigned New York governor did wrong

In a revealing article in Columbia Journalism Review New York City journalist Ross Barkan talks about the many media fails in covering the misdeeds of recently resigned New York State governor Andrew Cuomo. And yet, somehow, Barkan deftly pulls the punches. His omissions tell us a good deal about what is wrong with mainstream media today.

Cuomo was brought down by credible sexual assault and intimidation allegations over many years. One reason justice took so long was the media’s infatuation with Cuomo, ignoring on-the-ground realities of all types — some deadly, as we shall see.

Barkan gets a lot of stuff right: Cuomo was not nearly as skilled at handling the COVID-19 epidemic as major media painted him:

But Cuomo’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was objectively a failure. New York, to date, still has the second highest death rate in America, despite successive waves and the emergence of the Delta variant now ravaging many southern states. COVID-19 tore through nursing homes and healthcare facilities, with Cuomo’s administration masking the true death toll there until the state attorney general, in 2021, forced him to revise it greatly upward.

Ross Barkan, “The media’s role in the Cuomo myth” at Columbia Journalism Review (August 18, 2021)

Other officeholders who never appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone or received an Emmy, as Cuomo did, contained the epidemic better. But to vast swathes of the media, Cuomo was The Man:

It must be made clear what is meant here by media: almost all of it, including cable TV and prestige newspapers and magazines. The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC all helped inflate Cuomo’s reputation, along with other mainstream publications. CNN, most notoriously, allowed Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother, to interview him repeatedly in prime-time.

Ross Barkan, “The media’s role in the Cuomo myth” at Columbia Journalism Review (August 18, 2021)

So no one saw the close family connection as a conflict of interest?

Barkan also gets right that the media focused airily on “aesthetics over substance.” Cuomo was Cool. Even his obvious flubs were forgiven: Media “all but entirely neglected Cuomo’s most perplexing comments about coronavirus: how he, like Trump, compared it to the common flu and argued that it was not a grave threat at all.”

Journalists flocked to praise his administration even though his top aide was vicious toward media: “DeRosa and other top aides berating underlings and journalists alike—was well-known for years.” Although Barkan does not mention it, some fans chose to call themselves “Cuomosexuals.”

But all of this pales beside a much bigger issue that few media seem anxious to cover: Cuomo’s management of the epidemic probably contributed to thousands of unnecessary deaths of New York seniors. As neurosurgeon Michael Egnor notes,

In November, I wrote about the horrendous consequences of the official directive issued March 25, 2020 by senior New York State officials that required nursing homes to admit residents regardless of their COVID-19 status. In fact, the directive prohibited testing residents prior to admission:

No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission. [underline in original].

The officials responsible are Governor Andrew Cuomo (pictured), Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Howard Zucker, and Deputy Commissioner Sally Dreslin.

Despite public outrage and strong media criticism, their order remained in effect for a catastrophic 46 days, resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths. In my earlier article, I pointed out that there is no plausible justification for the order. New York officials obviously knew what they were doing — they signed it.

The excuse they offered — that it was an effort to triage bed availability in New York hospitals (i.e. to get patients recovering from COVID out of the hospital and back to their nursing homes quickly to make room for new patients) — was and is completely untenable. There were thousands of empty beds in makeshift hospitals and in the USS Comfort (a Navy hospital ship) that were never used and could have served as temporary shelter for infected patients until they were tested as COVID-negative.

Michael Egnor, “Explosive new information about New York’s mass COVID deaths” at Mind Matters News (February 14, 2021)

As Dr. Egnor recounts, a health official, perhaps accidentally, blurted out the deadly policy, along with some of the reasoning behind it: Fearing political pushback, New York officials took steps to conceal from the federal government the policy that doomed thousands of seniors. Update: New governor Kathy Huchul has recently revised the numbers upward to include 12,000 deaths that Cuomo had not been counting.

So, when it comes to Andrew Cuomo, why do we hear much about sexual harassment from mainstream media and so little about thousands of needless deaths?

Dr. Egnor rightly compares the New York COVID-19 protocols with the Tuskegee scandal when, for decades, some Black Americans were not given penicillin to treat disease, as part of a study they did not really know they were in. Of course, that probably wasn’t news at the time because Top People generally thought that Black Americans could be treated that way. Do mainstream media figures feel that way about seniors today?

Cuomo’s Emmy was recently revoked due to the sexual harassment scandal. But, as one critic has said, “The International Emmys should acknowledge that the award was wrongly given in the first place.” Meanwhile, his book on how he handled the COVID-19 crisis, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic has not sold well, despite an advance of over $5 million. So the media appears to have followed neither the evidence nor the public nor the money in this matter.

We are left with a picture of a media bereft of serious purpose other than mere survival in the face of the tsunami of the internet. Such an environment probably attracts the kind of people who would find it easy to ignore thousands of deaths in favor of a sexual harassment scandal that generates easy clicks. It’s not a good omen for their future.

You may also wish to read:

Why did New York have COVID policy that killed elderly patients? Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor: For all practical purposes, the government directive was essentially an order to spread COVID to people in nursing homes. This is the worst thing medical authorities have done in the US since the Tuskegee scandal, when black Americans were not given penicillin to treat disease.


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Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Media Try But Fail To Learn From Their Romance With Cuomo