BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. During the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo transformed into a fully-fledged TV star.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO Let's remember some basic contexts, and facts. Society functions. Everything works. There's going to be food in the grocery stores. [END CLIP].
BROOKE GLADSTONE Propelled into the firmament by his daily coronavirus briefings that reassured an anxious, leaderless public. Here's Ellen DeGeneres and Trevor Noah.
ELLEN DEGENERES You call yourself a cuomosexual, and I, I agree with you. I feel like I'm a cuomosexual too. [END CLIP]
TREVOR NOAH It genuinely have been very inspiring and refreshing to see a leader like Cuomo. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE New fans declared their adoration in TikTok videos, Memes and song. The great Randy Rainbow:
RANDY RAINBOW [SINGING] Stranded in my bedroom, No one to love, then there he is,
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO Let's give you an update as to where we are today.
RANDY RAINBOW [SINGING] My favorite guy. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE And the chummy treatment of the governor, of course, extended to many news networks like CNN, where Chris Cuomo asked the tough questions.
CHRIS CUOMO Now, you know, I've seen you referred to a little bit recently as the “Love Gov” and I'm wondering if that's bleeding into your demeanor at all, making you a little soft on the president? Love Gov?
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO I've always been a soft guy. I am the Love Gov. I'm a cool dude and smooth you know that. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE But in the past few weeks, Cuomo is TV persona has faltered. A report from the state attorney general and a court order found that the official count of deaths of nursing home residents due to the virus was nearly double the figure first reported by the Cuomo administration. Plus, as I write this, three women have accused the governor of sexual harassment, some in awkward, icky detail, including two former aides. Alex Pareene, staff writer at The New Republic, recently wrote the article: The Andrew Cuomo Show Has Lost the Plot. Welcome back to the show.
ALEX PAREENE Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You note to people who have closely read about the governor in the newspapers over the years as opposed to TV, this version of Cuomo; this bully and cynical operator, isn't new. How have the media changed the message?
ALEX PAREENE If you are a long-time consumer of mainly print news about state politics, you had an entire chronology of Cuomo scandals, even if you forgot some of the details that didn't necessarily get a lot of play on TV news. Keeping up with Cuomo news over the last decade has also required being familiar with reporters from the Albany Times Union or newspapers in Rochester. You know these places where the Albany bureau is still really important and a big part of their beat and a lot of that news, the complexity of it and specifically the way it fit a pattern of behavior with Cuomo was usually too difficult to get across, and especially in like a short television segment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I know a lot about this because I actually listen to the local radio station that produces this show. That's how come I know about the Moreland Commission. But you said this story never made it to primetime because it's too complicated.
ALEX PAREENE Absolutely. Yeah. All of the past few governors had gotten in trouble. Cuomo was running as the guy who's going to come clean it up, and so he sets up a commission called the Moreland Commission. He says they have the authority to investigate corruption and all of its forms here in Albany and they will be independent. I will not meddle. I will not interfere. He shuts them down less than a year later because they start going after people too connected to him, essentially. And people who worked on the commission, they went to The New York Times and they said Cuomo was meddling. He stopped us when we were getting too close to his allies. So that stuff was out there, but when the story made it to TV news, it was stripped of the level of detail necessary to understand what had happened and why.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Like in this interview with Charlie Rose, months after it came out that Cuomo's office had hobbled the aforementioned Moreland Commission.
ROSE Governor Andrew Cuomo is reestablishing a family dynasty in New York politics, though he's had to get used to criticism of his leadership style.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO You micromanage.
ROSE Yeah, they say that
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO You should delegate more.
ROSE Right, and you're not transparent, they say.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO I know. I know.
ROSE And they say you don't suffer fools and you know.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO Yeah.
ROSE And you're not –.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO You push too hard.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO You micromanage.
ROSE Yes. All of that. You plead guilty or not guilty.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO You can't have one without the other. I plead guilty. [END CLIP]
ALEX PAREENE Like not only was Rose asking an easily dodged question, he was almost ventriloquising the answers for Andrew Cuomo. Right. It's like the old job interview joke: what's your biggest flaw? You know, I'm too hard on myself.
BROOKE GLADSTONE [CHUCKLES] You take issue with the defenders of Cuomo who say that: hey, his most important audience, New Yorkers, always have known about the governor's bullying quality, that sharp operator with the even sharper elbows and all of that, and they like it.
ALEX PAREENE There's this idea that he has cruised to reelection twice. They must know who this guy is and support him. And that's why I draw that distinction between Cuomo, the TV character and this newspaper Cuomo, because if we have listened to a few clips of him on television, he's not berating anyone. He's joking around with his brother. He's performing empathy for victims of COVID-19 or Hurricane Sandy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE He's daddy complete with the daddy jokes
ALEX PAREENE Exactly. He's New York's dad.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Now, it seems that Cuomo has been able to keep his TV. Her son and his newspaper persona separate. Why are they colliding now?
ALEX PAREENE For a few reasons. One important one is that people do not want to go on the record attacking Andrew Cuomo because of the power he holds in the state, especially elected Democrats. What happened this time is that Ron Kim, an assembly member, received a bullying call from Andrew Cuomo for speaking to The New York Post about the nursing home situation. Kim had been at a briefing where a top Cuomo aide said, yeah, this looks bad, that we reported the wrong number of people who had died in nursing homes, but you have to understand, like we didn't want it to become a story basically. Like they were like Trump, Trump's DOJ is going to make a thing of it. Trump's gonna make a thing of it, that's why we covered it up. So anyway, Ron Kim went to the post and gave an on the record quote to the Post about that meeting. That was the subject of the call where Cuomo allegedly said, according to Kim, I'll destroy you. In normal Albany affairs, what happens next is either Kim shuts up, Kim goes on background to The New York Post again.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Because Cuomo, as in other cases, finds an irregularity in Kim's background, and implies that that could be used against him.
ALEX PAREENE And what he would end up doing is at a press conference, bring up a years old story about how Kim had flip flopped on this bill about nail salons. Then he would outright say Kim was crooked. Right after Cuomo does a press conference, there's a story on CNN about how Cuomo had made this phone call to Kim the day before, and that's not the kind of thing that legislators in Albany usually do when they get implicitly or explicitly threatened by Cuomo. They don't call CNN and go on the record and say, the governor threatened me. I think that Cuomo got away with it for so long because no one wanted to put their name to descriptions of his behavior. But Kim, he knows, well, I have a story now. I have a compelling narrative in which I'm the hero and the governor is the villain. And TV likes stories like that. And he ends up on The View.
JOY BEHAR Tell us what happened after he called you, or when he called you.
ASSEMBLYMAN RON KIM Yeah. So it was last Thursday night. I was about to bathe my three kids when I received a call from the governor. He spent 10 minutes threatening my career and ordering me to issue a statement that would be used to cover for the state secretary...[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE You wrote, quote, If a politician acts as if he believes his voters experience politics as a television show, the best way to harm him is to make yourself a compelling character. That's what the women who alleged the governor's sexual harassment are doing. And it's very compelling.
ALEX PAREENE Absolutely. And to my mind, that's why Andrew Cuomo doesn't seem like he knows how to navigate out of this stretch of bad press because people are putting their names to it. Going on the record.
BROOKE GLADSTONE These women do have some witnesses and some documentation, even a photograph. And Cuomo himself seems to have confirmed at least some of this.
ALEX PAREENE Yeah, I think that even if you're skeptical of some of the specific claims any of them made, they clearly have produced documentation that shows at least that he acted in ways that were inappropriate and that made them uncomfortable. And as you say, Cuomo has essentially admitted to that too. And he attempted to call for an independent investigation that would be half run by a political ally of his. He first tried to get the attorney general of New York to work with a judge he appointed to investigate this while calling it an independent investigation, because that sounds like the thing he would get away with in the past. It seemed like he couldn't get away with it this time, and he actually backed off. He referred it to the attorney general's office without that request. I think we are absolutely in uncharted territory for Andrew Cuomo right now.
BOB GARFIELD So what are the consequences, do you think, of fans of Andrew Cuomo, the TV character, being introduced to Andrew Cuomo, the newspaper character?
ALEX PAREENE Because politics is treated as fandom, I think television encourages it sometimes. There's going to be denial and there's going to be anger at the people who brought down Andrew Cuomo. Michelle Goldberg wrote in The Times about a tendency where people think it's just not fair that Democrats are always held to these standards and Republicans aren't. I personally would rather be on the side that has high standards.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And the ghost of Al Franken looms over this as well.
ALEX PAREENE Exactly. And there are definitely politicians that I feel that sort of affection for. I think it's a lot easier to get detached when you read the news very closely, rather than get it from cable news.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So is that the lesson? You really should avoid TV news?
ALEX PAREENE I really think that, I think you get a sort of distorted view of what's happening. The best way to learn about politics is not to watch cable news all day, but I think there are a lot of people who consider themselves well-educated, high information voters who follow the news, who aren't paying attention to what's going on in city hall or their state house. I do think if they want to be considered an engaged citizen, they have a responsibility to know what's going on, not just at the national level, but at city hall and the state capitol.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You are advising audiences to move away from TV news, which is something that I've done myself, but shouldn't we be leveling some of our opprobrium at the medium itself for being so reductive? Or do you think it's simply inevitable that they will get behind a narrative model? It stays on like an electronic fireplace.
BROOKE GLADSTONE It's definitely possible for any audio-visual form to tell a complicated story and explain things well, but the format that we crafted over many years called TV news, especially the 24-hour cable news version, doesn't seem well suited to me. The 24-hour cable news model is we need to fill a lot of time and not go broke doing it, so let's just get people in a studio talking. That's not the sort of careful reporting and then crafting of narrative journalism that you would get out of a documentary. It's not even the amount of work that goes into, for one example, the John Oliver show every week. Which usually just tries to tell one complicated story well. So that that kind of thing is possible in television, but it's not compatible, I don't think, with the 24-hour cable news model.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When did it strike you that there were these two dueling Andrew Cuomos in two different media?
ALEX PAREENE I had been watching the governor and the mayor of New York City have this fight in March about whether or not to shut down. Mayor de Blasio was late to the conclusion that New York had to shut the schools in the restaurant and go into lockdown, he was late to it, but he got there before Cuomo. And Cuomo attempted to undermine him when de Blasio made that decision. Typical Andrew Cuomo, this is how he works. So I was watching him respond to this pandemic with his usual management style. I thought it was failing New Yorkers. It was terrible here over the spring and summer, and I watched him then become a beloved TV celebrity. At its most absurd when he commissioned an artist to create a three dimensional mountain representing coronavirus cases in New York City, he made a monument to his mismanagement like it was a success, like we'd all gotten over this mountain together and covid-19 very few places have successfully stopped it. It's an incredibly difficult governing challenge, but no one should be taking victory laps over it. Like unless you are literally the government of New Zealand or Vietnam.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Alex, thank you so much.
ALEX PAREENE Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Alex Pareene, staff writer at The New Republic and host of the podcast The Politics of Everything, recently wrote the article, The Andrew Cuomo Show Has Lost the Plot.
BOB GARFIELD That's it for this week's show! On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan, Eloise Blondiau and Rebecca Clark-Callendar with help from Alex Hanesworth. Xandra Ellin writes our newsletter and our show was edited...By Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Adrienne Lilly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media, is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of programming is the audio record.