Columbia Journal Review torches NYT, CNN for roles they played in creating the 'Cuomo myth'

Cuomo will officially resign on Tuesday following the political turmoil he faced in the fallout of the explosive report released by New York Attorney General Letitia James that outlined sexual harassment allegations from 11 women, but writer Ross Barkan said “the role the media played in his popularity and dominance remains unexamined,” acknowledging he was used as a “foil” against President Trump in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Cuomo’s popularity, in one sense, was organic. Many people genuinely derived comfort from his steady cadence and PowerPoint presentations. There is no doubt he appeared in charge and eventually offered, in March and April of 2020, necessary information to the public,” Barkan wrote on Wednesday. “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.”

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Barkan pointed out how Seattle and San Francisco were also COVID “hotbeds” early on and “suffered far fewer losses” but Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and SF mayor London Breed “never graced the covers of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair” nor “won an Emmy” like Cuomo. 

“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,” Barkan wrote. “CNN, most notoriously, allowed Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother, to interview him repeatedly in prime-time.”

Barkan blamed the media’s focus on “aesthetics over substance” and how journalists overlooked policy decisions during the pandemic but that the “media celebration” began immediately.

He then took aim at New York Times media columnist Ben Smith, who declared in March 2020 that Cuomo “Is the Control Freak We Need Right Now” and that he “emerged as the executive best suited for the coronavirus crisis.” Barkan also knocked Times columnist Jim Dwyer for a piece that portrayed the Cuomo administration as being the savior of the state’s chaotic hospital system, noting “Dwyer never answered a key question in the piece—why did a governor who had been in power for a decade fail to overhaul such a dysfunctional healthcare system?” 

Additionally, the piece roasted the Times’ glowing profile of top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, who has since been implicated in the nursing home scandal as well as the controversy surrounding the governor’s COVID memoir and, according to AG James’ report, helped enable the “toxic” workplace culture in Albany. 

Barkan took a swipe at NY1’s Jamie Stelter, wife of CNN’s leftwing media guru Brian Stelter, for saying Cuomo “played equal parts leader and father figure at times” when the governor ended his streak of daily press briefings. 

“Ultimately, many news outlets, including NY1 and the Times, undertook necessary, watchdog coverage of Cuomo… But the question must be asked, as we move through this crisis and prepare to confront new ones, why the early coverage of Cuomo neglected so much,” Barkan continued. “Why weren’t harder questions posed? Why did performance matter so much more than policy? It is easy to imagine an alternative, reflexive skepticism from the outset, especially as New York’s coronavirus death toll soared. There was nothing, ultimately, to celebrate.” 

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